Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (7): Dithering over peace amid a lacklustre campaign

Ali Yawar Adili Thomas Ruttig 25 min

One ticket has fallen apart and one candidate has withdrawn his candidacy in favour of another. This has reduced the number of presidential candidates from 18 to 16 and left the two incumbents, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah, as the main contenders in the race. In this piece, AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili and Thomas Ruttig discuss the campaigns that started, the threats to boycott the election, the security concerns and the presidential tickets that have fallen apart. They conclude that the campaign that started on 28 July and will continue until 48 hours before election day has, so far, been uninspiring and marred by disbelief that the election will take place on 28 September.

On the first day of the election campaign, only two (Ghani and Atmar) out of 18 candidates put up their pictures and posters along Darul Aman Road, a major road in Kabul. Atmar's election ticket has disintegrated since then. Photo: Ali Yawar Adili, 28 July 2019On the first day of the election campaign, only two (Ghani and Atmar) out of 18 candidates put up their pictures and posters along Darul Aman Road, a major road in Kabul. Atmar's election ticket has disintegrated since then. Photo: Ali Yawar Adili, 28 July 2019

Lacklustre start and uninspiring continuation of election campaign

When the official race for the Afghan presidency started on 28 July, two months before the polls, only three out of 18 candidates officially organised public campaign events. These included the two incumbents and main contenders, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and also Enayatullah Hafiz, a fringe candidate. Ghani’s electoral ticket, Daulat-Saz (State-Builder), was the first one. It launched its election campaign at the Loya Jirga tent in northwest Kabul. The president said that he had managed to undercut the “domination of gold, force and oppression” in Afghanistan’s political system during his first term and asked people to grant him another mandate to implement “law and justice.” Ghani said that he would put into practice “Omarijustice,” a reference to the second caliph of Islam and a shot at claiming religious legitimacy for his presidency. Ghani followed this by travelling to a few provinces, for example to Paktia on 8 August (media report here), to Herat on 23 August (media report here) and to Kandahar on 14 September (see the video here). Even before the official campaign started, he had toured the country to inaugurate infrastructure projects, which his opponents condemned as unfair and illegal electioneering. Abdullah and his Stability and Integration team was second, launching the campaign in the large Uranus Wedding Palace on the main road to Kabul’s international airport. This gave him the chance to refer to and criticise Ghani’s speech. He said, “Today, someone has said that he would implement Omari justice. Listen very carefully. . . . If our people think that Omari justice was like what happened in the last five years [of the Ghani presidency], their faith would be harmed.” Abdullah –a partner in the post-2014 National Unity Government (NUG) with Ghani – accused the president of double standards in fighting corruption. He referred to the corruption charges against former minister of communication and information technology Abdul Razeq Wahidi who had been acquitted two days earlier(he was acquitted by the appeal court seven days earlier, on 21 July, though, media report here) while someone being investigated by the attorney general had, again two days earlier, been appointed as acting deputy minister of finance for revenue and customs, one of the key revenue-raising positions in government. He was referring to Walid Tamim who announced his ministerial appointment in a tweet on 26 July. All this while waiting to receive India’s agreement to go there as Afghan ambassador (see AAN’s reporting here). Abdullah called it “appointing the wolf as shepherd.” The third candidate, Hafiz, chose a different method to open his run for the presidency. With a group of aides and supporters, he went to three areas in western Kabul predominantly inhabited by his Hazara ethnic community and cleaned roads there (see media report here). No other campaigns started on 28 July. Instead, as discussed below, the 13-member Council of Presidential Candidates decided to delay their campaigns and even warned they would boycott the election. Although some candidates finally began their campaigns, the campaigns have remained insipid and affected by insecurity and the uncertainties around the now stalled peace negotiations.

Boycott threats

On the same day the campaigns started, 28 July, the Council of Presidential Candidates issued a statement warning they might boycott the election, as they consider the poll “fraudulent, pre-engineered and crisis-generating.” The council comprises 13 candidates and was formed in April 2019 (then by 11 of the 18 presidential aspirants) in response to the delay in the presidential elections and what they saw as the unconstitutional extension of Ghani’s presidential term (see AAN’s reporting here and here). Its members gave the president and his team one week to address a number of problems, such as the protection of “the independence of the independent electoral institutions,” including those “related to procurement and recruitment”; the interference of “high-ranking government officials . . . in favour of the ruling teams”; threats against government employees who do not support the teams of the NUG leaders and “deliberate insecuritisation of areas where rival candidates to the ruling team are assumed to [receive] more votes.” If that did not happen, the council’s members would instead “focus on the struggle to make the peace process successful and build national consensus for developing an accountable administration so that such an impartial and national administration undertake the responsibility for holding a free and fair and credible election.” (1) On 1 August, the Council of Presidential Candidates met the Election Support Group, which comprises key donors (the European Union; Australia; Sweden, on behalf of the Nordic Plus group; Germany; Japan; the United Kingdom and the United States), NATO and UNAMA, to communicate their above-mentioned statement issued on the first day of the election campaign. (2) Ahmad Wali Massud, one of the candidates and a member of the council who shared the news of the meeting on his Facebook page, wrote that the council was determined to use all available resources for making the election transparent before launching their campaign, which fell short of a boycott declaration.

Facing a possible boycott by at least half the candidates, Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, an IEC spokesman, told Hasht-e Sobh on 5 August that the IEC was prepared to hold the election even if it were between two candidates only. It did not come to a boycott. One by one, candidates began to launch their campaigns. Below is a timeline of the first campaign events of some of them:

  • Leader of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is experiencing his first presidential election in post-Taleban Afghanistan after his deal with the government in 2016, launched his campaign on 1 August.
  • Former NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil launched his campaign at the Loya Jirga Tent on 3 August, 7 days after the official commencement of the race.
  • Sayyed Nurullah Jalili launched his campaign at the Loya Jirga Tent on 4 August
  • Massud –not seen as one of the election favourites – (video here) launched his campaign, also at the Loya Jirga Tent, on 9 August, 13 days after the race had officially started. At that point, Massud’s ticket could have been ranked third among in terms of including powerful leaders of Jamiat-e Islami party, after Abdullah’s Stability and Integration team and that of former NSC Hanif Atmar (which included former interior minister Yunos Qanuni, another leading Jamiati, as a vice-presidential candidate). However, after the Atmar ticket collapsed (more on that below) and Amrullah Saleh (who originally belonged to the same political camp) joined Ghani, a number of Jamiat heavyweights (such as Qanuni, former Balkh governor Atta Muhammad Nur, Herat strongman and former minister of water and energy Ismail Khan, and former defence minister Besmellah Muhammadi – who had been with Atmar) have been weighing whether to back Massud or Abdullah. The latter is still seen by many in the party as having squandered the political chances linked to his powerful position in the NUG and has drawn harsh criticism for it, for example by Ismail Khan, who had urged him not to run again. However, he might appear to be the more likely choice, given Massud’s low-key performance.
  • Shahab Hakimi also launched his campaign on 9 August. Instead of talking about the election, he said that “There is no peace nor the possibility for holding a general election. Inshallah, interim government is coming. This administration [NUG] cannot hold general, fair and acceptable elections.”
  • Latif Pedram launched his first campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel on 15 August in which he promised to create a “Federal Islamic Republic of Afghanistan-Khorasan” if he won the election.

The election team security factor

Hours after the inaugural ceremony of Ghani’s election campaign ended, the office of his first running-mate, Amrullah Saleh’s Green Trend movement (AAN background here) in Shahid Square north of Kabul’s city centre and near the airport, came under a complex attack. The attack included a car bombing followed by a gunfight involving at least four attackers. The attack left 20 dead, including 16 civilians, and as many as 50 wounded (media report here). No group, including the Taleban and the local Islamic State franchise, claimed this attack. It was widely condemned by officials and presidential candidates such as the president, the chief executive, Atmar and Nabil (see media report here) and UNAMA. The latter’s statement underlined, “Candidates are civilians. Violence has no place in Afghanistan’s presidential campaign.” However, it had a demoralising effect for the election campaign which had just kicked off. An attack by unknown gunmen on a Ghani campaign office in Mazar-e Sharif was also reported on 1 September 2019. It resulted in a 15-minute firefight, but no one was injured.

Ten days into the campaign period, on 6 August, the Taleban, writing in English, warned voters to “stay away from gatherings and rallies that could become potential targets,” saying that it instructed “all its Mujahideen to stand against this theatrical and sham of a process” and “prevent the enemy from succeeding in their malicious plans.” They also challenged the election’s legitimacy by saying voting would take place only in selected cities and even there most of the inhabitants would not be participating. They added that while negotiations were underway “to bring an end to the occupation and arrangements for intra-Afghan understanding are being put into place,” the elections would only serve to satisfy “the ego of a limited number of sham politicians, resulting in the waste of time, money and resources.” In reaction, on the same day the palace condemned “the Taleban’s threat against the people.”It argued it was the people’s legal right, including under Sharia, to elect their leaders (using the religious term “auli-l-amr) “through direct vote.” It said that the government had made “all the necessary preparations” to guarantee this through “free, transparent and general elections.” It also said that the country’s security forces were “instructed” and “fully prepared” and would not allow anyone “to stop their participation in determining their destiny.” Meanwhile, the commander of the US and Resolute Support forces in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, also assured his Afghan counterparts of their “full support and readiness to work with Afghan security forces in all areas, especially in suppressing insurgents.”

On the first day of campaigning, Nabil’s team had already claimed that most of the “enemy’s threats” were against it and complained that its “security package” had not “yet been implemented” by the government. Nabil said it did not “pay much attention, and this deliberate negligence has caused serious problem for our public gatherings and provincial travels of the leadership members of our team.” He did not specify who were posing threats or their nature. (3) Later, on 10 September, a source from his election campaign who did not want to be named told AAN that threat reports came from the government,  and were mostly against Nabil himself and his first running-mate Murad Ali Murad.

The Council of Presidential Candidates also complained about insufficiency in the security measures on 24 August, saying “Security measures for the candidates are incomplete and worrisome, and the government has not provided services in accordance with professional standards. In the event of any unpleasant incident, officials at the top and Ghani should be held responsible.”

Meanwhile, after his 23 August campaign trip to Herat mentioned above, President Ghani suddenly stopped campaigning in the provinces. Instead, he started “virtual rallies” where he speaks to supporters in different provinces on the phone or through video conference. No reason was given for this measure. The New York Times Kabul-based correspondent Mujib Mashal wondered in a 30 August tweet whether this shift was reflecting “good use of technology” or a reaction to higher security threats. He said, “Politicians who at least during election times went to meet people in far away districts (away from their blast walls and armored vehicles) now talk to gatherings via Skype.” Afghan journalist Harun Najafizada, editor with Iran International, answered that question in another tweet on 2 September: “In Afghanistan security does not allow actual rallies [before] the Sept. 28th presidential polls.” The chief executive has had no provincial campaign trip yet.

It is worth mentioning that some of the election observer organisations (eg Afghan Amputee Bicyclists for Rehabilitation and Recreation (AABRAR), Afghanistan Civil Society Forum-Organization (ACSFO), Training Human Rights Association for Afghan Women (THRA)) conducted a pre-election assessment before the start of the election campaign. AAN was invited to attend the meetings. One official from the Ministry of Interior who did not want to be named told the assessment team that, even in Kabul, they had informed the candidates that the security forces could only secure campaign events held at the Loya Jirga Tent and a few other specific venues, which he refused to name.

Elections versus peace

Apart from technicalities and security threats, the campaign has been so slow for a much larger reason: it was simply not clear to the candidates and their political allies whether the election would go ahead. This uncertainty emanated from the – now defunct – negotiations between the US and the Taleban in Doha. The US made it clear that election might stand in the way of the larger aim, ending the war. For instance, on 24 August, US ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass, while visiting Mazar-e Sharif, said that while both elections and a peace accord were “important for the United States . . ., [p]eace is our highest priority because it is also the highest priority of the Afghan people. And every day, we have Afghans telling us that peace is their highest priority.”

Campaign posters on the airport road. Apart from incumbent President Ghani’s campaign, other candidates started their campaign reluctantly and put up their posters around Kabul city. Photo: Ali Yawar Adili, 14 September 2019

The widespread assumption was that these negotiations would culminate in a cancellation of the election in favour of an interim power-sharing arrangement. This was fuelled by media reporting of rumours, such as al-Jazeera reporting almost a month into the election campaign, on 24 August, that the US and the Taleban had agreed to an interim government that would be in charge for 14 months (media report here). While both US Special Representative Zalmai Khalilzad and the spokesman for the Taleban’s Qatar office, Suhail Shahin, rejected the reports on the very day in separate tweets (see here and here), it did not dilute the suspicion that both sides might be hiding something. As AAN has already reported, even Chief Executive Abdullah, who had consistently supported the holding of the election and accordingly started his electoral campaign, modified his position – and increased his options – saying that he was “fully ready to render sacrifices before and after election to reach a durable peace in the country.” According to this report this included “quit[ting] elections for the sake of peace.” While the election looks to be the only option for moving forward after President Trump declared peace negotiations as “dead,” there are no signs to indicate that the election campaigns have picked up enough steam.

Moreover, there is a trust deficit in the election itself, resulting from the deficient previous elections. Ghani himself has called the 2018 parliamentary elections “a catastrophe” (AAN reporting here), while the EU election observation mission called the 2014 presidential election, from which Ghani emerged as the president but in the unloved NUG, a “disaster.” The findings of a survey released by Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) on 8 August showed that only 42.87 per cent of the respondents (5,200 from all 34 provinces) said they would participate in the upcoming election and  the remaining 57.13 per cent of them had no interest in voting in the upcoming election. The reasons included: electoral commissions have no freedom or the required capacity to hold the election; citizens’ votes were sacrificed for a political deal in the 2014 presidential election; and severe security threats and challenges.  AAN has repeatedly reported that necessary electoral reform has remained embryonic, making the coming election as problem-ridden as the previous ones, with electoral institutions widely considered non-credible and partial, while reports surrounding the preparations for biometric verification suggest the likelihood of renewed chaos. In addition, the election has a significant problem with inclusiveness: many voters, particularly in rural Taleban-controlled areas, are already deprived of their right to vote due to lack of security, with 2,005 out of 7,378 polling centres remaining closed.

Out of the race

1. Collapse of Atmar’s team

Even before the start of the official campaign season, the ticket of one of three election favourites collapsed. Atmar’s candidacy would have transformed the duel between the two NUG heads Ghani and Abdullah (which repeated the one between Ghani’s predecessor Hamed Karzai and Abdullah in 2009) into a three-horse race with an unpredictable outcome.

Atmar (a Pashtun from Laghman who served as national security adviser to President Ghani until 2018 and before as minister of rural rehabilitation and development, education and interior under Karzai) had formed one of the strongest and most diverse tickets. His first and second running-mates were respectively former vice-president Muhammad Yunus Qanuni, a Tajik from Panjshir and a senior Jamiat member, and Muhammad Mohaqeq, the second deputy to Chief Executive Abdullah and the leader of Hazara-dominated Hezb-e Wahdat-e Mardom-e Afghanistan. Atmar had also fielded a third, informal, running-mate, Alem Sa’i, an Uzbek and a former governor of Jawzjan, to tap into the Uzbek voter base usually dominated by Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is supporting Abdullah. Sa’i is a member of the anti-Dostum New Jombesh party founded in June 2017 (AAN background here). In addition to Qanuni, Atmar had cultivated other influential Jamiat stalwarts who, Qanuni said on 18 January 2019, included Atta Muhammad Nur and Ismail Khan. (4) Qanuni particularly underscored Nur’s and Khan’s role in forming the ticket, without whom, he said, they would not have been successful (see AAN reporting here).

In the end, a row broke out in the Atmar ticket about Nur’s role and his claim to the future prime ministerial post. On 24 July, Nur told Tolonews in an interview that “I am the prime minister of this team.” Six days later, on 30 July, Radio Azadi reported, based on a source close to Atmar’s electoral ticket, that at the launch of the team’s election campaign Nur wanted to be introduced as the ticket’s candidate for this prospective position but that Atmar opposed it. The report said that Atmar wanted his plan to re-establish the prime minister’s post to be mentioned in his campaign charter but that it would be implemented only after being approved by a Loya Jirga after an election victory. Atmar had laid this approach out himself in an interview with Tolonews a few days earlier, on 20 July, in which he said:

The agreement of our team is that if we win, we will maintain the presidential system hundred per cent [but] under this system, for the betterment of governance affairs [and] considering the successful experience of His Majesty’s reign [referring to the same system in place under King Muhammad Zaher [1933–73], we will create the post of sadr-e azam [prime minister] by amending the constitution who will be appointed and dismissed by the president.

What really happened might have been a bit more complicated, at least according to Sayyed Muhammad Ali Jawid, the head of one faction of Harakat-e Islami party that was part of the Atmar team. In this position, he had some insight into the team’s internal dealings. In a Facebook post on 9 August, he alleged that Atmar had signed a secret agreement with Nur to create the post of prime minister and introduce him as his candidate to the post. According to Jawid, Atmar informed the leadership council about the agreement on 6 Asad (28 July), only after the disagreement between him and Nur became serious, and asked the council members to mediate. Jawid claimed that members of the team’s leadership council, including himself, tried to do so but to no avail. Jawid also said that Atmar had accepted to announce Nur’s prime-ministership but refused to yield to his demand that the prime minister also would pick his ministers after the election victory, which Atmar considered as rendering himself powerless as the prospective president. (5) Before, on 3 August, Jawid had announced his party’s separation from Atmar’s team, citing Atmar’s and Nur’s unrelenting stances regarding the prime-ministership issue, with the result that the credibility of this team in the public opinion had “decreased to zero.” 12 days later, on 15 August, Jawid announced that his party would support Ghani’s State-Builder team.

In any case, Atmar’s team declared its election campaign “halted and suspended” on 8 August. His statement gave three reasons, but did not mention the Atmar-Nur ruckus about the prime ministerial post and the imminent implosion of the team. It rather:

  • blamed the continuing “naked interferences by the Palace’s apparatus” in the election preparation and its own lack of “confidence in the transparency of the elections and guarantees for a free and fair setting” for it;
  • blamed the deteriorating security threats to the electoral teams and their campaign activities as well as the voters; and
  • said that it had prioritised “efforts at peace” over the election.

It also said that it would reserve all Atmar’s election ticket’s legal rights and would review its “role constantly and take necessary decisions in accordance with the future political situation and developments.” This hinted at a possible resumption of his campaign. This seems to be very unlikely, though, in particular as two weeks later, on 23 August, Atmar’s second running-mate, Mohaqeq, officially joined the Abdullah team (see the video here), though he still insisted there was no discord among the team members.

On 15 August, already, Ghani’s campaign manager, Muhammad Omar Daudzai, posted a photo of himself shaking hand with Sulaiman Kakar who had been Atmar’s deputy in the office of the National Security Council until September 2018 when he resigned ten days after his boss (media report here) saying that an “experienced and patriotic personality” joined Ghani’s State-Builder campaign. Kakar, he said, would work as the deputy campaign manager. Before, Kakar was crucial to Atmar’s team and had been described as the “executive arm” of his election team. This led to media reports (see one here) that Atmar would also join Ghani’s State-Builder team. However, five days after the suspension of his campaign, on 13 August, Atmar denied these reports. Atmar replied in his short media notice:

Since last night, reports indicating that the leader of the Peace and Moderation team Muhammad Hanif Atmar, senior members of the team and in general the Peace and Moderation team plan to join another electoral ticket have been published in the media and on social media. The news is absolutely inaccurate and untrue. The Peace and Moderation team pursues its goals and programmes with full strength.

However, AAN had heard that Ghani’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Moheb, had met Atmar to persuade him to join the president’s team and that Atmar had, instead, asked to be appointed as the chief negotiator in the possible upcoming intra-Afghan negotiations.

2. Withdrawal of Rasul

Meanwhile, Zalmai Rasul withdrew from the race and also announced his support for Ghani’s team in a ceremony held on 6 August in Kabul (media report here). Rasul, who served as foreign minister and national security advisor under Karzai, did not provide any specific reasons for his withdrawal. Rasul’s running-mates, Abdul Jabbar Taqwa (a Tajik from Farkhar district of Takhar) and Ghulam Ali Wahdat (a Hazara from Bamyan), did not follow his suit and, on the same day, announced their separation from him. Unlike in 2014, when Rasul was one of the most viable candidates and came third in the first round of the election (he supported Abdullah in the second round), this time around his team was not considered as among the frontrunners.

One IEC commissioner wrote in response to AAN’s written query on 4 September that no candidate had officially written to the IEC to withdraw from the race, the ballot papers had been printed and were now being dispatched to the provinces, and that all the (18) candidates who had been cleared to contest the election are on the ballot. According to the electoral law, candidates could withdraw until 25 April when the IEC published the final list of candidates. Should they want to withdraw from the contest after this date, their names will remain on the ballot, but any votes cast for them will not be counted and their deposits will not be returned (the money would go into state coffers).

With the collapse of Atmar’s team and withdrawal of Rasul, the number of candidates has decreased from 18 to 16, leaving the two incumbents, Ghani and Abdullah, as the main contenders in the race.

Some extra institutional arrangements

As Atmar’s ticket, with its busted plan to build up one of its key members as the prospective prime minister – a position not envisaged in the current constitution – Abdullah’s team also came up with some innovation. When he launched his election campaign on 28 July, Abdullah said (his video here) that his team’s leadership had decided that his ticket would include three, not two, deputies for the position of chief executive, the quasi-prime ministerial position invented under the NUG. He then introduced the Pashtun politician Anwar ul-Haq Ahadi, a former finance minister and head of New National Front of Afghanistan coalition as chief executive candidate. He named a Hazara, Ghani Kazemi (the leader of one Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami faction) as his first deputy and Roz Muhammad Nur (a Turkman) as the second, while the third position would go to a – not yet announced – woman. (6) Abdullah’s move addressed what is seen as a necessity in Afghanistan’s highly factionalised and ethnicised political landscape: to have a representative of each major ethnic group on a ticket to appeal to voters of these particular groups. His ticket was still missing a Pashtun, while the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara slots were taken by himself, Enayatullah Babur Farahmand and Asadullah Sadati.

Ahadi’s acceptance of the position is remarkable insofar as he had broken away from a large political coalition, the Grand National Coalition of Afghanistan (see AAN’s reporting) in November 2018 in protest against exactly the same issue – the coalition’s plan to create the post of a prime minister.

Abdullah has also promised to form another political body, called the Supreme Leadership Council, composed of leaders of major political parties. This has in particular been reflected in his agreement with Hezb-e Wahdat-e Mardom leader Mohaqeq. When he left Atmar’s team and joined Abdullah’s, he was promised the post of deputy to the leader of the council. This council is to advise the president “about fundamental issues in the country,” according to Muhammad Nateqi, Mohaqeq’s deputy in the party, who himself has been promised a post as a special representative of the president in the case Abdullah wins.

Nabil appointed a Turkman, Abdul Majid Sattari, as his third vice-presidential candidate on 28 July. (7) In this, he follows Ghani, Atmar (see AAN’s previous reporting here) and Abdullah who have now introduced informal third vice-presidential candidates, so far introduced as “special representatives” of the president. These additional posts are not covered by the current constitution. According to article 60, only two (first and second) vice-presidents are envisaged and must be declared by the presidential candidates when registering to run, not during the campaign.(8) Consequently, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) warned in its 30 July 2019 decision that none of the candidates and electoral tickets could use titles such as prime minister, third vice-president or vice-presidential candidate in their election campaign.

Campaign violations

Two days into the campaign, the ECC, in its 30 July decision quoted above, issued warnings for the first electoral violations, which occurred during Ghani’s and Abdullah’s campaign launches. The ECC cited the illegal use of government’s money and facilities, such as using the Loya Jirga tent (a government venue), government equipment and vehicles and the participation of high-ranking government staff in the gatherings. The ECC said that this had violated article 98 (paragraph 1, section 31) of the electoral law, article 5 (paragraph 5), article 6 (paragraph 2) and article 7 (paragraph 1, sections 4 and 7) of the amended regulation regarding the 2019 election campaign as well as article 6 (paragraph 4) of the regulation for management of financial affairs of the election campaign of candidates. It said that the ECC members unanimously decided to issue serious warnings to both Ghani’s “State-Builder” and Abdullah’s “Stability and Integration” teams in accordance with article 30 of the electoral law (paragraph 1, section 3)and urged them to observe the procedures of the electoral commissions and other electoral regulations.

A day after the official commencement of the election campaign, on 29 July, Atmar’s team issued a “statement about illegal appointments by Dr Ashraf Ghani.” The statement said, “Former president and 2019 presidential candidate, Dr Muhammad Ashraf Ghani, in continuation of [his] illegal actions, has appointed a number of people to the important government positions . . . as heads of customs (from Herat to Nangrahar and from Kandahar to Farah) on the first day of the start of the election campaign.” It said that all these appointments had “political, electoral and campaign dimension and are in direct conflict with the electoral law, the principle of rule of law, political morality and sound competition which in turn can deal a heavy blow to the credibility of the government and irreparable harms to the election.” (9)The appointments came despite the Independent Directorate of Local Governance’s announcement on 21 July that it had halted all “new appointments and recruitments related to the agency until the end of the election” (AAN’s reporting here). Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqi, however, insisted on 30 July that all the appointments, firings and hirings that had taken place within the government institutions were “needs-based” and covered by law.

On 9 September, the Kabul provincial ECC announced that foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani had been charged with a cash fine of 15,000 afghanis (almost 200 US dollars) for participating in Abdullah’s campaign events. It also fined two presidential advisers, Abdul Rahim Azizi and Shah Hussain Murtazawi, and the chancellor of Kabul University, Hamidullah Faruqi, with a fine of the same amount for campaigning in favour of Ghani’s team. Murtazawi was also penalised with a ban from voting. Kabul-based Pajhwok News Agency also compiled a long list of examples of the use of “foul” and “aggressive” language, which is against the electoral law.


The campaign for Afghanistan’s 28 September 2019 election has been lacklustre because of the uncertainty resulting from the – now collapsed – US-Taleban talks and US pressure to further delay the poll to not stand in the way of an agreement on troop withdrawal and intra-Afghan negotiations envisaged for after the conclusion of the deal. This and the precarious security situation even forced the incumbent – the only candidate fully committed to the election – to suspend his campaign travels outside Kabul (which he resumed only on 14 September).

AAN’s count of the IEC’s official figures from the 2018 parliamentary election shows less than 3.5 million (3,467,541, to be exact) valid votes (in private meetings, election observers have been saying that the number was even much lower). With this uninspiring campaign, AAN has heard concerns that the turnout might be much lower, especially given that there is no local election to help get the voters to polls. It is feared that the election might fail to deliver a legitimate mandate to the next president.

Even so, the little campaigning so far has been marred by accusations of irregularity and manipulation which reflect the mistrust in the unreformed electoral institutions seen by his opponents to work in the incumbent’s favour.

With the disintegration of the Atmar ticket, the election is expected to become a two-horse race between the incumbent, Ashraf Ghani, and his estranged NUG ‘partner,’ Abdullah Abdullah. Together with the lack of electoral reform promised after the 2014 ‘disaster’ – an election without an official result and a compromise unloved by the two ‘partners’ who largely cancelled out each other – this constellation might increase the danger that the post-2014 election chaos might repeat itself. Under these circumstances, any result could easily be challenged – again.


Edited by Thomas Ruttig and Sari Kouvo


(1) Presidential hopeful Muhammad Shahab Hakimi, a member of the council, told a local newspaper, daily Hasht-e Sobh on 30 July that eight candidates had so far agreed to boycott the 28 September elections and that consultation in this regard continued. He did not provide the names of those planning to boycott.

The council’s statement listed the following as “plausible reasons of the Council of Candidates to boycott the presidential election”:

First: our recommendation for establishing a committee comprising representatives of presidential candidates, political parties and representatives of civil society organisations related to the election to assist and support holding a free and fair election to protect the independence of the independent electoral institutions and forge national and international cooperation to hold a free, transparent, fair and credible election in accordance with the law has been ignored.

Second: the organisational changes in the government not only were not cancelled but also two new ministries named State Ministry for Peace Affairs and State Ministry for Human Rights Affairs have newly been established. These have fully political dimensions and are against the basic state structure.

Third: the appointments and dismissals of senior government officials and employees which have taken place since the leaders of the National Unity Government registered as presidential candidates have not been reversed.

Fourth: the real independence of the IEC and ECC in decision-making related to procurement and recruitment of provincial staff and secretariats has not been clearly and transparently ensured. Non-transparent appointments have not only not been cancelled but have also been maintained.

Fifth: high-ranking government officials in the centre and provinces directly interfere in the election affairs in favour of the ruling teams. New posts are created in districts for this purpose.

Sixth: the head of the National Unity Government and the ruling team in the centre and provinces have launched cosmetic and campaign activities by using government resources such as inaugurating projects and celebrating independence, which are considered fully political and campaign activities.

Seventh: the National Television of Afghanistan and other government media have been provided to the ruling candidates unfairly and against the legal documents.

Eight: abuse of the national budget, especially codes 91, 92, and 95 and operative money, for campaign activities of the leaders of the National Unity Government, especially of the president intensely continue.

Ninth: abuse of government projects by the head of the National Unity Government, especially by the first lady and her office which has in essence been created against the law continue.

Tenth: Abuse of the National Procurement Commission and signing contracts through single-source method, including the contracts signed by the Presidential Protection Unit not only have not been cancelled but have also continued.

Eleventh: the relevant government institutions have not provided the necessary and appropriate resources to meet the legal and legitimate needs of other candidates and their team members, including security facilities, in accordance with the law and their needs.

Twelfth: psychological and career threats against government employees who support non-ruling electoral teams have not been prevented.

Thirteenth: unfortunately, deliberate de-securitisation of areas where the candidates rival to the ruling team are assumed to have more votes continues.

Fourteenth: unfortunately, the IEC has not had the necessary coordination with electoral tickets about the purchase and maintenance of biometric devices, training of staff in how to use the devices, cleaning the fake tazkeras, cleaning the voter list, questionable mobile polling centres and existence of hundreds of polling centres in insecure areas and other important instances which has caused serious concern for the candidates.

Fifteenth: rejecting the recommendations by credible international organisations to improve the 2019 presidential election.

(2) The commencement of the election campaign received only a lukewarm welcome from the international community. The European Union Delegation in Afghanistan tweeted on 28 July, “Today starts the presidential election campaign.” It called on Afghans to “seize this historical opportunity [and] make candidates accountable of their vision of post-conflict” Afghanistan. It also called on “candidates to make this campaign a moment of transparency [and] integrity.” A day later, on 29 July, UNAMA issued a statement saying that “all candidates and supporters are expected to engage in a fair campaign as outlined” in the electoral law, IEC’s code of conduct for the candidates and other regulations enacted by the IEC. It also called on all the stakeholders to “work toward building trust and confidence in the election process.” UNAMA reiterated its “continued commitment and support for an Afghan‐led and Afghan‐owned election” and acknowledged “the efforts made by electoral management bodies, the government and other stakeholders to hold a timely, transparent and credible presidential election.”

(3) In its statement, Nabil’s “Security and Justice” election ticket accused the government of “double standards.” It accused“the government led by the Palace” of acting “in an extremely biased, narrow-minded and selfish way in the management of the election.” Later on the same day, Nabil repeated his accusations, saying a in tweet that they were worried about “the interference and engineering of the upcoming election by the ruling team and Ashraf Ghani.” However, he said that his team would not boycott the election “at this stage.”

(4) Others include Kalimullah Naqibi, deputy head of Jamiat; Abdul Satar Murad, head of the political committee of Jamiat and former minister of economy; Engineer Aref Sarwari, former head of NDS; Abdul Malek Hamwar, former minister of rural development and rehabilitation and Baz Muhammad Ahmadi, deputy minister of interior for counter-narcotics.

(5) Jawed also gave other reasons for the disintegration of Atmar’s team:

  • broken promises, including to pay those officials of the Ghani administration who had joined his team and were subsequently fired by Ghani who also cancelled their benefits;
  • Atmar inaccessibility: “I . . . tried for more than one month through different ways to meet Atmar but he did not take time to meet. So I said to myself: He ignores people while he has not even become the president yet; if he becomes the president, meeting him would be impossible”;
  • broken relations with two former mujahedin parties, the National Liberation Front of Afghanistan of late Professor Sebghatullah Mojaddedi and the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan led by Sayed Hamed Gailani;
  • Atmar forming a special circle of close aides, “mostly” Pashtuns, where all main decisions were taken and not sufficiently shared in the leadership council.

(6) Below are short bios of candidates for chief executive and its deputies under Abdullah’s ticket. We only provide biographical detail of politicians who newly appeared on the presidential tickets. For the originally 18 tickets and their members, refer to this AAN dispatch.

  • Ahadi, a Pashtun born in 1941 in Kabul, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economy and political science from the American University of Beirut, a master’s degree in financial and administrative affairs and a PhD in political sciences from Northwestern University, US. He served as the head of Afghanistan’s central bank from 2002 to 2004 and finance minister from 2004 to 2008 (see his bio on the Stability and Integrity website here). Ahadi backed Ghani in the 2014 presidential election, but in January 2016 established an opposition group called the New National Front of Afghanistan (see AAN’s reporting here).
  • Kazemi, born in Lashkargah of Helmand province on 26 April 1963, has served as a military commander of Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami-e Afghanistan in Helmand, head of the party’s provincial council in Helmand and member of the central council of the party, representative of Harakat to the Supreme Military Council of Islamic State of Afghanistan and United Front. With changes to the structural organisation of the party, he was elected as the head of the central council of the party on 15 Jawza 1388 (5 June 2009). After entry into force of the amended political party law in 2009, he registered Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami based on the new conditions enshrined in the law. Kazemi has also served as deputy secretary general (2004) and then secretary general (2005–2010) of the Afghan Red Crescent Society. He worked as presidential adviser on disaster management from 2012 to 2015 and as an adviser to the chief executive from 2016 onward (information is extracted from his bio shared by one of his campaigner with AAN).
  • Roz Muhammad Nur was born in 1339 (1960) in Mardian district of Jawzan province. He graduated from Balkh Agricultural High School in 1359 (1980) and holds a bachelor’s degree in economy from Turkey. He served as second secretary at the Afghan embassy in Turkey from 1373 to 1381 (1994-2002), governor of Jawzjan from 1381 to 1384 (2002-2005), and then as the councillor in Afghan embassy in Turkmenistan until 1388 (2009). Since 1389 (2010), he has been active in political activities and is now picked as the second deputy to the chief executive in Abdullah’s Stability and Integration team (information is taken from his short bio shared by one of Abdullah’s campaigner with AAN).

(7) Sattari, ethnically Turkman, was born in Qurghan district of Faryab province in 1977. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economy from Selcuk University, Konya, Turkey. He has worked with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (2002–2003), international military forces (NATO) (2011–2014), civilian trainer for officers of the Ministry of Interior (2015–2016) and Turkish consulate in Jawzjan (2016–2018) and as logistics officer and then acting head of RET International (2018–2019). He has now been nominated by Turktabaran (Uzbeks and Turkmans) as the third vice-presidential candidate on Nabil’s election ticket (the information is obtained from his biography which AAN received from one of Nabil’s campaigners on 4 August).

(8) Article 60 of the constitution says:
The President shall be the head of state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, executing his authorities in the executive, legislative and judiciary fields in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

  • The President shall have two Vice-Presidents, first and second.
  • The Presidential candidate shall declare to the nation names of both vice-presidential running mates.
  • In case of absence, resignation or death of the President, the first Vice-President shall act in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
  • In the absence of the first Vice-President, the second Vice-President shall act in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

(9) This statement apparently referred to a letter of appointment which was posted (see here) on social media on 29 July. The letter number 3710 was issued by the recruitment section of human resources of the Ministry of Finance and signed by the acting deputy minister for administration on 6 Asad 1398 (28 July) to the Customs Department of Herat Province. It approved the following appointments:

  • Muhammad Akbar, head of Kandahar customs, as head of Herat Customs (replacement)
  • Feruz Khan as head of Nangarhar customs
  • Zaherullah Jilani, son of Abdul Dayan, employee of general department of customs, as head of Kandahar customs
  • Ahmad Nawid as head of the general department of customs for operation
  • Sanaullah Ibrahimi, the technical head of the general department of customs, as head of Farah customs
  • Shams Alekozai, the head of the general department of customs, as airport customs officer.



Campaign election Election 2019 electoral campaign presidential candidates Presidential election


Ali Yawar Adili

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