Afghans impatiently await new president

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi, Kabul

Afghans will go to the polls again in few days. Despite a relatively successful and peaceful first round of the presidential vote, uncertainty looms large over the future of the South Asian country.

Afghanistan Wahlen Wahlurnen werden nach Kabul gebracht

Who will be our next president? The question has puzzled the Afghan people for months. They will finally have the chance to decide on Saturday, June 14.

Hamid Karzai, the incumbent Afghan president, will be replaced by a new head of state in early August. His successor could be either his former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, or his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. Whereas Abdullah received 44.5 percent of total votes in the first round of the election on April 5, Ghani secured 31.5 percent. In order to become president, a candidate needs more than half of the total votes. In line with the Afghan constitution, a runoff election has to take place between the two leading candidates.

On many levels, there is not much difference between the two politicians. They want to seal the security agreement with the US as early as possible. They promise to end corruption in the country and say they intend to negotiate with the Taliban to out a stop to the decade-long insurgency in the war-torn country.

Afghan presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani (L) and Abdullah Abdullah take part in a debate at 1 TV in Kabul, Afghanistan, 08 February 2014 (Photo: EPA/S. SABAWOON)
But there are also some differences between the contenders. Abdullah is popular in the north, whereas Ghani has more followers in the south. Nevertheless, what unites the two Afghan leaders is the daunting task to rebuild the country.
Ethnic preferences”Many Afghans vote on the basis of ethnic affiliation of the candidate,” Bilqees, a teacher, told DW. However, the 55-year-old says she won’t do the same. “It is important to have a president. His ethnicity does not really matter,” she added.

Bilqees says that she wants to see a person in power who can eliminate the differences between ethnic Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. “I voted for Abdullah in the first round because I think he can be a good president.”
Mohammad Zaker also comes from Afghanistan’s north – the Panjsher province. He prefers Ghani though. “Ghani has what it takes to be president. He is qualified for this position and has the know-how of state affairs.”

But Zaker also believes it is a matter of choosing a “lesser evil.” “Both Abdullah and Ghani have warlords and mafia people as aides,” he told DW.

Waning euphoria

Ghani and Abdullah now have the support of candidates who had been eliminated in the first round of the election. The initial enthusiasm for the historic poll – which will lead to the first-ever democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan – is waning.

“It is quite natural,” Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told DW. “The election campaign has been running for so long that the candidates have said everything,” he said, adding that this might be one of the reasons why the euphoria in Kabul has died down.

Afghan policemen investigate the site of a suicide attack in Kabul June 6, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)

There could be violence this time around

The first round of Afghan vote was marked by a massive voter turnout. More than seven million Afghans went to the polls, far more than expected. Zaker fears it won’t be the same this time. Apart from a lack of interest, a worsening security situation is another de-motivating factor, he believes.

Threat of attacks

Contrary to what many analysts had expected, the first round of election was quite peaceful, and the Taliban could not disturb the polls. Many observers had hailed the election as a triumph against the Islamists.

But experts say that this time around the Taliban are in high spirits after getting a number of their leaders released in exchange for US marine Bowe Bergdahl.

“I expect serious violence on election day, although this may be hard to disaggregate from the overall levels of violence which is not directly related to the election,” Graeme Smith, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told DW.

The Afghan security forces had months to prepare to make sure the runoff would take place without violence. However, it is difficult to say whether they would be able to make this happen. Poor security means there will be room for manipulation during the vote. Afghans can’t afford it.

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