Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Pre-Electoral Consultations: the palace is looking for a new IEC head

Martine van Bijlert 10 min

On 9 April 2013 the President called a broad consultative meeting to discuss the selection of a new IEC chairman. The tumultuous term of the current head, Fazl Ahmad Manawi, ends this coming week. The main opposition representatives publicly declined the invitation, terming the meeting illegal, while others – including the generally pro-Karzai jihadi leaders Sayyaf and Mohseni, and Ministers Arghandiwal and Ahadi – were absent without further comment. The meeting did not select a new IEC head. Instead it concluded that the new chairman should be appointed after both the Law on the Structure, Duties and Powers of the IEC and the Electoral Law have been passed by Parliament. It is not clear what the real aim of the meeting was or whether the outcome was a setback for the President. What is clear, however, is that time is pressing given that the elections are due in a year.

The invitee list to the meeting that the palace called last Tuesday is an interesting one.(1) On one hand the list reads like a ‘core of the state’, covering key positions such as the two vice-presidents, ministers and presidential advisers, the head of the Supreme Court, and the Speakers of Parliament. It also includes a considerable number of representatives from the judicial, quasi-judicial and otherwise ‘bodies of morality’, which suggests that they would have been expected to provide legitimacy if the President had indeed managed to convince the meeting to sign off on a somewhat improvised selection of a new IEC head.(2)

A closer look however shows that the list reflects what, in the eyes of the palace, a ‘national consensus’ may look like. It thus reads like a ‘core of the political field’, listing the officials and political figures who, in the eyes of the palace, need to be courted or kept on board – not because of their positions, but because of the constituencies they are believed to represent. These include jihadi leaders, selected cabinet ministers, presidential advisers and members of Parliament, leaders in the political opposition, the ‘civil society establishment’, and a few representatives of constituencies that were not covered by the invited political coalitions (like for instance former PDPA official Gulabzoi, the reconciled former Taleban officials Muttawakil and Mujahed, and personalities who are currently without (senior) position but are likely to resurface at some point, like Aref Noorzai and Jailani Popal).

The list represents a considerable widening of the field compared to the jihadi leader consultations that the President often has called in the past. On the other hand, however, observers and some of the invitees have been suspicious as to whether the meeting reflected an actual will to consult, or whether the broad scope of invitees was merely meant to lend legitimacy to a pre-cooked outcome.

The Cooperation Council of Political Parties and Coalitions of Afghanistan (CCPPCA) boycotted the meeting and released a statement in which they declared the meeting ‘illegal and against the democratic values’ and called for the democratic selection of IEC members, following the selection process in the new – not yet finalised – Law on the Structure, Duties and Powers of the IEC.(3) As a result a considerable number of invitees did not attend the meeting. Several of them were linked to the CCPPCA, including: Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal (Economy Minister and head of Hezb-e Islami ); Anwarul Haq Ahadi (Commerce Minister and former head of Afghan Mellat), Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (head of the National Coalition of Afghanistan or NCA); Ahmad Zia Massud (head of the National Front of Afghanistan or NFA); Mohammad Yunus Qanuni (MP, head of Afghanistan-e Naween and member of the NCA leadership); Mohammad Mohaqeq (MP, head of Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Mardom-e Afghanistan and member of NFA); Hanif Atmar (head of the political committee of the Rights and Justice Party) and Faizullah Zaki (member of Junbish-i-Mlli and spokesperson of NFA).

Other notable absentees were jihadi leaders Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf (head of Dawat-e Islami) and Sheikh Mohammad Asef Mohseni (head of the Shia Council of Afghanistan and former head of Harakat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan), whose parties did not join the CCPPCA and who tend to support Karzai. They may have been hedging their bets, in an attempt to convey the message that their support still needs to be earned; they may be trying to somehow safeguard their conservative religious credentials; or they may have considered the meeting below their usual stature. Also notably absent were Gulabzoi, Mutawakil and Mujahed.

On the other hand, not all parties who are part of the CCPPCA joined the boycott of the meeting. Those who appear to have participated anyway included Pir Gailani (head of the Mahaz-e Melli and member of the High Peace Council), Wahidullah Sabawun (Hezb-e Islami-ye Mutahed-e Afghanistan and Presidential adviser for tribal affairs), Vice President Fahim, Salahudin Rabbani and Ismail Khan (Jamiat-e Islami), and Jailani Popal (Afghan Mellat and a strong Karzai loyalist). This could be the result of an often seen practice, with the president trying to insert loyalists into opposition coalitions, so that they can be withdrawn and break ranks at critical junctures.

During an earlier consultative meeting in December 2012 the opposition had also been divided, with the CCPPCA attending and the NFA boycotting. The meeting seemed to have taken place in a constructive atmosphere, which was however roughly disturbed when only days later the IEC announced that the Cabinet had amended the Electoral Law and had scrapped the Electoral Complaints Commission (see here for details on the meeting and here for background on the amendments of the law).

This time when Karzai invited, it was not just the opposition who didn’t play ball, but also the usually pro-Karzai parties like the Afghan Mellat and Hezb-e Islami. The proportion of political figures who boycotted the meeting, and the constituencies they represent, conveys a message that the President is having a hard time convincing those whom he is courting that he means well. This is illustrated in the reply of CCPPCA’s Abbas when asked by a journalist why the CCPPCA had decided to boycott the meeting, when they had attended an earlier similar one: “We were not sure that the president would say yes to viewpoints and advice given by parties. Thus, we saw today’s meeting to be outside the law, and that is why we decided not to take part in the meeting.” (Channel One TV, 09/04/13) And according to the independent pro-reform (and often critical of the government) daily Hasht-e Sobh: “The absence of opposition and famous political personalities in the meeting shows the depth of distrust in political circles in the country.”(Hasht-e Sobh 10/04/2013)

The CCPPCA in its statements has insisted that the President, instead of trying to appoint his own person to the IEC, should help push forward the ratification of the Law on the Structure, Duties and Powers of the IEC, so that the new IEC head can be appointed according to a lawful (if somewhat complex) procedure.(4) The palace statement describing the outcome of the consultative meeting, however, takes this one step further, stating that the meeting has decided that the new IEC head should be appointed as soon as the Parliament has ratified both the Law on the IEC Structure and the long pending Electoral Law. The Law on the IEC Structure was sent to a joint commission of the Lower and the Upper House that was to solve their disagreements on the composition of the ECC. According to Azadi Radio, the commission reached an agreement today.(5)

The Wolesi Jirga now plans to start discussing the new draft Electoral Law in the next plenary session on Monday. There is, however, ample scope for distraction, both because of the Parliament’s current preoccupation with its own dysfunctionality and bad reputation, and because of the many potentially controversial discussions that are to be had around the ratification of the law (as the Wolesi Jirga proved during the previous electoral cycle, when it failed to ratify the Electoral Law and replace the presidential decree in time, after months of controversy and walk-outs).

It is as yet unclear what the real aim of Tuesday’s meeting was: whether the President indeed planned to push through the selection of a new IEC head (6); whether he simply wanted to test the waters with a range of political actors to see how much room for manoeuvring he has; whether he wanted to signal that he is still making an effort towards consensus-building; or whether – as those critical of him allege – he is simply seeking to either complicate or control the process. There are suspicions that the palace may have stacked the cards against a swift appointment of a new IEC head by adding in the condition of the ratification of the Electoral Law, as well as the Law on the IEC Structure. The discussions in Parliament and the level of unnecessary distractions and upheaval are likely to be a fairly accurate indicator of the government’s – as well as the opposition’s – intent to play a constructive role in laying the – fairly late – groundwork for next year’s election, or not. An election which, as the CCPPCA correctly noted, is less than a year away.

(1) The list of invitees can be found on the website of the presidential office (Dari andPashtu only):

1. Hazrat Sibghatullah Mojadedi, Jehadi leader – did not attend
2. Ustad Abdulrab Rasul Sayyaf, Jehadi leader – did not attend
3. Pir Seyd Ahmad Gailani, Jehadi leader
4. Ayatullah Sheikh Mohammad Asef Mohseni, Jehadi leader
5. Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, First Vice President
6. Ustad Mohammad Karim Khalili, Second Vice President
7. Abdul Raouf Ibrahimi, Speaker of the Lower House
8. Fazl Hadi Muslimyar, Speaker of the Upper House
9. Professor Abdul Salam Azemi, Head of the Supreme Court and Chief Justice
10. Hedayat Amin Arsala, Senior Minister
11. Qayamudin Kashaf, Head of the Country-wide Ulema Council
12. Ustad Shahrani, Senior Presidential Adviser
13. Salahudin Rabbani, Head of the High Peace Council
14. Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Head of the National Coalition of Afghanistan – did not attend
15. Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai , Head of the Transition Commission
16. Gul Rahman Qazi, Head of Monitoring Commission for Implementation of the Constitution
17. Ahmad Zia Massud, Former Vice President – did not attend
18. General Abdul Rahim Wardak, Senior Presidential Security Adviser
19. Ustad Mohammad Mohaqeq, Member of Parliament [National Front of Afghanistan ] – did not attend
20. Mohammad Hanif Atmar [Rights and Justice Party] – did not attend
21. Dr Azizullah Ludin, Head of the High Anti-Corruption Office
22. Mohammad Yunus Qanuni, Member of Parliament [National Front of Afghanistan] – did not attend
23. Ustad Akbari, Member of Parliament
24. Haji Din Mohammad
25. Aref Khan Noorzai [former Minister of Tribes and Border Affairs]
26. Khalifa Saheb Qazl Ayaq [member of the Sar-e Pol Peace Council]
27. Seyd Hussein Anwari, Member of Parliament
28. Abdul Rahman Hotaki, Head of the Organisation for Human Rights and Environmental Protection
29. Wahidullah Sabawun, Presidential Minister-Adviser
30. Qazi Mohammad Amin Waqad, Member of the High Peace Council
31. Mowlawi Saheb Salekzadah, Presidential Minister-Adviser
32. Dr Sima Samar, Head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
33. Habibullah Ghaleb, Minister of Justice
34. Ismael Khan, Minister of Power and Water
35. Adul Hadi Arghandiwal, Minister of Economy – did not attend
36. Engineer Zarar Ahmad Moghbel, Minister of Counter Narcotics
37. Seyd Mansour Naderi, Jehadi leader
38. Sarwar Danesh, Head of the High Judicial Board of the President’s Office
39. Seyd Noorullah Sadat [former head of Junbesh-Melli]
40. Hayatullah Hayat, Member of the CCPPCA
41. Azizullah Rafee, Head of the Afghanistan Civil Society Foundation
42. Jandad Spinghar, Head of FEFA [Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan]
43. Lida Yaqubi, Deputy of the Afghanistan Women’s Network
44. Dr Mirwais Rahimzai, Head of the CCPPCA
45. Naim Nazari, Head of the Civil Society and Human Rights Network
46. Faizullah Zeki [spokesperson Junbesh-Melli and National Front] – did not attend
47. Mohammad Musa Khan Hotak [member of the High Peace Council]
48. Mowlawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil [former Taleban Foreign Affairs Minister] – did not attend
49. Dr Anwar ul Haq Ahadi, Minister of Commerce and Industry – did not attend
50. Seyd Mohammad Gulabzoi [former PDPA Interior Minister] – did not attend
51. Jailani Popal [Presidential Adviser on Governance and leading member of Afghan Mellat]
52. Mowalai Abdul Hakim Mujahed [former Taleban representative at the UN, High Peace Council]

An earlier version of the list included Amanullah Dzadran, who has now been removed, while Jailani Popal was added. The order of the invitees also changed, with the positions on the list possibly implying prestige. The most noticeable changes include the moving up of both Parliamentary Speakers (3 places), the head of the Ulema Council (12 places), the head of the Peace Council (4 places), Dr Abdullah (14 places), members of Parliament Mohaqeq, Qanuni, Akbari and Anwari (6-9 places), Aref Noorzai (9 places), Khalifa Saheb Qazl Ayaq and Abdul Rahman Hotaki (each 11 places), presidential adviser Salekzadah (20 places) and AIHRC head Sima Samar (15 places). Those who were moved down a lot included the ministers (11-16 places, except Ahadi who was already at the bottom of the list), Seyd Mansour Naderi (32 places), Sarwar Danesh (13 places) and Musa Khan Hotak (14 places). Pir Gailani and Sayyaf traded places.

The information on who was absent from the meeting comes from Tolo News and may not be exhaustive.

(2) These representatives included among others the Minister of Justice, the head of the Supreme Court, the Commission for Oversight on the Implementation of the Constitution, the Presidential Judicial Board, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Ulema Council and the High Peace Council.

(3) For more background on the CCPPCA see this previous blog. The full text of the CCPPCA statement released on 9 April 2013 is:

The CCPPCA believes that the upcoming election is going to take place less than one year in the country and it will be the most historical event in the political fate of our nation.
The council has the following demands:
1. We ask the Parliament to take quick steps in passing the IEC Structure Law and the ECC which were already passed.
2. A free and fair election depends on an independent and impartial election commission. Therefore, the election the IEC members should be democratic through the selection committee which has been clarified in the IEC Structure Law.
3. Selection of the IEC members without considering its democratic aspect which had already been presented in coordination with the Cooperation Council and Civil Society will not be acceptable and cannot ensure the transparency and fairness of the elections.
4. Any anti-democratic step for the selection of the new IEC Chairperson by the President will not ensure a transparent and fair election. Therefore, we want the President no to attempt in selection of the IEC Chairperson without paying attention to the decisions of the Parliament and the demands of the political parties and political coalitions and civil society organizations. It will be better that H.E. respect the will of the representative of the nation and the demands of the political parties and coalitions. Instead of relying on the selection of the IEC Chairperson he should help the process of approval of the IEC Structure Law.
5. Finally, the Council considers today’s consultative meeting in the palace to select the new IEC’s Chairperson illegal and against the democratic values.

(4) According to the Law on the Structure, Duties and Powers of the IEC, the chairmen of the two houses of parliament, the chairman of the Commission Supervising Implementation of the Constitution and the chairman of the Supreme Court, will be presented with the names of 27 impartial intellectuals from the civil foundations and lecturers of universities. They will select one third of them to the president, after which the president selects the head of the election commission from among these nine names.

(5) The disagreements at the time centred on whether the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) should include international commissioners or not. That discussion became somewhat mute in December 2012 when the Cabinet scrapped the ECC from the draft Electoral Law, mandating a Special Tribunal instead, but the new draft, prepared by the Legislative Commission of the Wolesi Jirga, again features a complaints commission.

(6) Several names have been floating around over the last few weeks, including Head of the President’s Office Karim Khorram, female Ghazni governor Habiba Sorabi, National Security Adviser Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta (source: among others Pajhwok), previous IEC head Dr Najafi and Dr Mushahed, the controversial head of the Independent Civil Service and Administrative Reform Commission (Mandegar daily). All of them are considered close to the President. It is also quite possible for Manawi’s term to be extended.


Elections IEC Karzai opposition


Martine van Bijlert

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