Amid surge in violence, Afghanistan sets date for 2019 presidential election

August 5, 2018

TEHRAN - Afghan authorities have announced April 20, 2019 as the date for next presidential election, when the five-year term of President Ashraf Ghani-led national unity government (NUG) comes to an end.

The announcement was made by Abdul Badi Sayed, chairman of the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission, who said many factors, including security, had to be taken into account.

Six months before the presidential election, Afghanistan will also have parliamentary election, scheduled to be held on October 20, after a lot of dilly-dallying.
Abdul Azim Ibrahimi, the spokesperson for the commission, admitted that the deteriorating security situation was a matter of concern; however he hoped that the issue “will be solved by then”.

On the concerns of fraud and irregularities, the spokesperson said the commission was “committed to ensuring the transparency and integrity of both parliamentary and presidential elections”.

Almost nine million voters, including three million women, have registered to vote for parliamentary and presidential elections, despite threats from armed opposition groups, he said.  

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the poll announcement on Wednesday, calling it “an important moment for democracy in Afghanistan”.

President Ghani, who has been railed for poor governance and inability to stem violence, is expected to run again for the top office. However, observers believe, there would be realignment of political forces prior to the elections, since many political leaders have switched sides in last two years.

It remains to be seen who Ghani takes as his running mates, since his relationship with first vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum has frayed since Dostum, who was accused by a political rival of torture and rape, was unceremoniously forced by Ghani to fly to Turkey last year. Dostum returned home a few weeks ago, as part of some deal with Ghani, according to sources.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s main rival in the last presidential election and the strongman of northern Afghanistan, has also fell out with some of his powerful backers like former Balkh governor Ata Mohammad Noor, which has made the election more interesting. Noor has reportedly expressed interest in running for the presidency.
The last presidential election in 2014 was marred by allegations of fraud and vote-rigging. The two top contenders, Ghani and Abdullah, both claimed victory, resulting in a deadlock. The government was eventually formed through a compromise formula in which both leaders were accommodated.

According to observers, the fears about fraud and irregularities will dominate next year’s presidential election as well. But, security remains the biggest hurdle with the resurgence of Taliban and other militant groups in the war-ravaged country.

According to the new report released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) last month, there were 5,122 civilian casualties (1,692 deaths and 3,430 injured) in the first six months of 2018, marking one percent increase in civilian deaths. There has been a spate of terror attacks across the country in recent months, claimed by both ISIS and Taliban, resulting in civilian casualties.  

On Friday, at least 29 people were killed and dozens more wounded after two suicide bombers attacked a Shia mosque in eastern Afghanistan.

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