What follows below is a virtual roundtable discussion that we arranged between a series of members of Afghan civil society who have worked on elections at various times. It includes their thoughts on the recent deal between Ghani and Abdullah, as well as the potential repercussions for democracy in Afghanistan.
First of all I would like to congratulate to the new president and applaud the political progress that has been made. It should be pointed out, however, that this was not the outcome and anyone was expecting. But, at least, now we have been able to end the uncertainty and ambiguity in our political system that has caused many people to suffer. In my option, this solution, while flawed, made the best of a bad political situation. We were on the brink of returning to civil war and many people were discussing the possibility of leaving the country.
That being said, the people still have many questions for the candidates.
If we look at the situation from a positive angle, the agreement to share power is a win-win situation. Conceptually this is a good option, but it is still far too soon to see what the longterm repercussions of this arrangement might be.
One of the real questions is whether people will be willing to participate in future elections. This question will not be solved now, but people are instead looking at the performance of the new government. The performance of the government will ultimately solve a lot of these questions. People are asking, if we don’t have a national unity government, what other options are there? People are not optimistic at this point about the other options.
People have turned away from the UN and, in terms of international involvement, are focused on the role of John Kerry and the interference of the Americans. People feel that the candidates should not have accepted Kerry’s advice and should have instead formed an agreement on their own.
Most people feel that this entire process has been a slap in the face for democracy in Afghanistan, but the candidates and their representatives are constantly trying to appear in the media as if they are the ones that have rescued the country from its crisis. Ultimately at this point, however, there are many more questions than there are answers.
For me, this was the last opportunity for us to have some sort of quasi-democratic government instead of descending into civil war – the absolute worst case scenario. I would still say that the election itself had something to do with the process, even if the deal to create a chief executive position for the second place candidate appears to have deviated from this process.
For many Afghans, including myself, the coming together of the candidates, after all the public threats, sitting at one desk and signing an agreement was not clearly not an easy task. As a result, we appreciate the role of the UN, in particular Kubis, who was busy brokering this deal over the past three months. In addition, I agree with Farid that Kerry is the figure from the international community who receives the most blame for the overly drawn out process. The candidates appeared to only be obeying his suggestions and this put the candidates both in a negative light for most Afghans. At the university, students are joking that nothing can now be accomplished in Afghan politics without the mediation of John Kerry.
As Farid suggests above, this process seems to have ultimately condemned the voters and appears to be a funeral ceremony for elections. I believe that in the future, no Afghan will accept the results of an election and both winners and losers will claim that they deserve positions. I am cautious about this new national unity government. It seems certain that the candidates will be in conflict and that there will be disputes about how power is divided. It is especially problematic that the new executive position is not legally defined and people are concerned about how the president will deal with his competitor in this position. I hope that Ashraf Ghani will be able to manage this conflict in a positive way and actually bring the change that he promised in the election.
For me, next year’s parliamentary election is very important. It seems like the candidates have agreed on a framework for reforming the election commission, but whether this is real reform or not remains to be seem. This reform will set the stage for the future (or lack thereof) of democracy in Afghanistan. If this reform is not complete, perhaps the government and international community should stop wasting money on elections in Afghanistan. If this happens, a dictatorship may be required simply because the government does not have the capacity to manage a democratic process.
For me now the parliamentary election is very important. As both candidate agreed on framework of reform in the election commissions so how they interpret the reform as real reform or just dividing position in the commissions. This reform will be a base for the future election and democracy. If the reform resulted negatively. After that I do not want to the government and international community to waste money in election in Afghanistan. In stead a directorship regime is required because we do not have the capacity to manage change toward a democratic process.