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2014 Afghanistan

Presidential Election:
An Ethnic Analysis
Salih Doğan*

The April 5th presidential election could be a milestone for the democratization of
Afghanistan, marking the first time in its history that an elected president will be
replaced by another one. But if things do not go as planned, the consequences for
security and stability in the country will be devastating. The presidential election and
the transition will overlap, and both of these processes are key to securing a better
future for Afghanistan. In this respect, this article will firstly review the early elec-
tion process in comparison to previous ones. Secondly, the electoral system will be
explained. Later on, the 2009 presidential election will be assessed in order to derive
lessons from the mistakes that led to a disappointing failure of electoral process.
The next section will focus on the upcoming election, mainly in relation to the front-
runners from an ethnic point of view. The conclusion will review the recent positive
developments and recommendations for a free, fair and transparent election.

* Salih Doğan is a Research Assistant, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Turgut Özal University,
Ankara, Turkey


The incumbent president. According to the Constitution of Afghanistan. “no individual shall be elected for more than two terms as President and/or Vice-President. 707-729. in order to ensure equalized power sharing among ethnic groups. This has always been a problem and will remain one in the future. and Abdul documentation. As Simonsen puts it: “ethnicity has become more salient in the country” since the beginning of Operation Enduring available at http://www. Vol. level of education. 5 Uzbek and 3 Pashtun Vice- Presidential candidates running for the office. 6 Tajik.”1 The period of candidate nomination for presidential elections was open for 21 days. Although the list of presidential candidates is not ethnically diverse. Sardar Mohammad Nadir Naeem (member number of reasons. Qutbuddin Hilal (Islamist level of education. Daud Sultanzoi (former member of were disqualified for a parliament). the Independent Election Commission the official electoral announced the final list of the presidential candidates. while 16 others were disqualified for a number of reasons. only Dr. Third World Quarterly. Hidayat Amin Arsala (former them dual citizenship. Abdullah is ethnic Tajik. af/pdf/legalframework/law/afghanistan_constitution. Rab Rasul Sayyaf (Afghan Salafi leader). Ashraf Gani Ahmadzai presidential candidates (former Finance Minister). 25. The candidates are Dr. “Ethnicising Afghanistan?: inclusion and exclusion in post- Bonn institution building”. (DOI: 94 .pdf 2 Final List of 2014 Presidential Candidates. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. deadline. which will be held on April 5 2014. among them dual citizenship. is not eligible to run for the third term due to constitutional limits.2 Among the candidates. 2004. Abdul Rahim Wardak (former qualified for the final Defense Minister). pp. while 16 others Karzai’s brother).org. Zalmai Rassoul presidential. On November 20th On November 20th 2013. Gul Agha Sherzai (former Governor). No.iec.pdf 3 Sven Gunnar Simonsen. 4 days later than electoral deadline. 4.3 1 Article 62. Caucasus International A fghans are going to vote for their new president in the upcoming presidential elections. available at http://www. the rest are all ethnic Pashtuns. Senior Presidential Advisor). from September 16 to October 6 2013. among of former royal family). Qayum Karzai (President Hamid list. and leader). there are 8 Hazara. 4 days later than the official 2013. the Independent Eleven presidential candidates qualified for the final Election Commission list. This issue is quite important for Afghan politics.iec. Eleven (former Foreign Minister). announced the final and documentation. Hamid Karzai. Abdullah list of the presidential Abdullah (former Foreign Minister). based on the electoral timeline announced by the Independent Election Commission (IEF) of Afghanistan.

af/pdf/ legalframework/law/electorallaw_eng. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. While 18 candidates (8 Pashtuns. general. As again in accordance with the Electoral Law specifies.iec. of elections results.crisisgroup. 7 Tajiks. there were 32 in 2009.aspx 5 Article 61. “Presidential Elections”.org/en/regions/asia/south-asia/ afghanistan/088-afghanistan-from-presidential-to-parliamentary-elections. more than fifty percent of votes cast by voters through Citizens directly elect the free. and one which most of the 2014 is the possibility of the presidential candidates are following. No. candidates still have to appeal to other ethnic communities than their own. and.3 • No: 4 • Winter 2013-2014 In comparison with the former presidential elections. It should be noted here that none of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan is the majority in the population. http://www. The Electoral System The Afghan electoral system for presidential elections The Afghan electoral is based on a majority voting system. “Afghanistan: From Presidential to Parliamentary Elections”.1080/01436590410001678942) 4 International Crisis Group. of votes in the first round shall participate. available at http://www. Brussels and Kabul. the Another important aspect of the electoral system is the elections shall be held possibility of the death of a presidential candidate. not even the Pashtuns. 2 Uzbeks and 1 Hazara) ran for presidency in 20044. Citizens directly system for presidential elect the president. death of a presidential If none of the candidates gets more than fifty percent candidate. “elections for the second Law specifies. there are far fewer eligible candidates for 2014. Running with two vice-presidents coming from Another important aspect two different ethnic groups is one of the most effective of the electoral system strategies in this respect. 6 Chapter 4 Article 17. secret and direct voting”5 in the first round.pdf 95 . even if we accept that the voting for the presidential candidates depends mainly ethnicity. president. Asia Report. as will be described in detail later.”6 states the or after the elections and Electoral Law (August 16 2010). only dies during the first or two candidates who have received the highest number second round of voting. “if one of round shall be held within two weeks from the date the Presidential candidates election results are proclaimed. in this round. This is what happened before the announcement in the 2009 elections. a brief outline of Afghanistan’s electoral system will be provided. “if one of the Presidential provisions of the law.” 10. Therefore. As the Electoral of the vote in the first Before analyzing the 2009 presidential elections and the expectations and implications of the 2014 elections. 88. Electoral Law. Vol. Article 61 of the 2004 constitution elections is based on a states that the “president shall be elected by receiving majority voting system.

pdf 10 International Crisis Group. Brussels and Kabul. “Karzai’s Opponents Slam Supreme Court Ruling As ‘Unconstitutional’”. The final thing that should be mentioned in the electoral system is the term of office.rferl. in March.%20Election%20Observation%20Mission. Available at http:// democracyinternational.%20 Afghanistan%20Presidential%20and%20Provincial%20Council%20Elections%202009%20 Final%20Report. Hard Road to the 2014 Transition”. The first one was that the five-year presidential term of the incumbent. since Karzai’s presidential term expired on May 21st. despite the accusations and complaints of the oppositions. which is five-years. Asia Report. The approval of the timeline only six months before created two problems. given that the whole country is at war and Taliban threats against the candidates are not uncommon.S. extended Hamid Karzai’s term until a new leader had been Maryland.10 The Independent Election 7 Ibid. his continuation as president until the declaration of the election results would not be legitimate. “Afghanistan: The Long.”7 This issue is somewhat controversial. Election Observation Mission to the Afghanistan Presidential and Provincial Council Elections 2009”.org/content/Karzais_ Opponents_Slam_Supreme_Court_Ruling_As_Unconstitutional_/ 96 . Secondly. Also. the decision was both unconstitutional and politically unacceptable especially for the opposition groups of President Karzai.html 9 Democracy International. http://www. it is hard to pay for a whole new election process. given the cost of the elections in relation to the Afghan economy. 8 Farangis Najibullah. Harsh weather conditions during the spring provided the first reason to delay the elections.8 However. the elections shall be held again in accordance with provisions of the law. and the same person cannot be elected as president or vice-president more than twice. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). No.crisisgroup. The Experience of 2009 Presidential Election The 2009 Afghanistan presidential election took place on August 20th.9 Notwithstanding any legal requirements. it would not have been easy to hold the elections in March or April 2009 for several reasons.Caucasus International candidates dies during the first or second round of voting. 30 March 2009. President Hamid Karzai. Hence. “U. August 2010. or after the elections and before the announcement of elections results. http://www. the Supreme Court of Afghanistan. the next presidential election should be held 30 to 60 days before that date. was due to end in May 2009 and under the constitution.S. The Independent Election Commission announced the exact date only six months before the elections. 236.

“Election Scenarios in Afghanistan: Will There Be A Real Winner?”.salihdogan. since key role in all this. lead to Commission had the key stability and security. 13 Salih Doğan. Thus the elections were a litmus test for Afghanistan’s projections for democracy and political stability. had appointed all seven of its members. which is quite likely the beginning of the battle season.pdf 11 Ibid.3 • No: 4 • Winter 2013-2014 Commission also announced that the security conditions would be fragile during the spring. Karzai had won the election in one round with 54. afghanistan/236-afghanistan-the-long-hard-road-to-the-2014-transition. Local and international observers have declared that there was widespread electoral fraud starting from the very first day of the election process. 20 October 2009. The August 20th presidential (and provincial council) elections were held on time despite the critical violence threats throughout the country. however. the ECC received more than 2800 complaints regarding the polling day and the counting process. it was hoped. “Afghan election results give Karzai 55% of vote. The IEC started to announce the partial results ten days after the elections. the Taliban threats against the presidential candidates and voter were deemed high-risk.14 Following the announcement of the uncertified final results on September 16th. cit. sufficient administration able to manage the future of its the Commission was not people. According to the first results. however the Electoral Complaints Commission received hundreds of complaints every day.11 Besides. The Independent Election Commission had the truly independent. however. which could. available at http://www. of which 726 were considered serious enough to affect the results. available at http://www. the UN-backed Election Complaints Commission decided to recount 10 percent of the votes. Even though these were the third elections since the collapse of the Taliban government in 2001. Vol.cbc. role in all this.6 percent of the vote. op. In a month.13 proving the existence of a of-vote-1. the Commission was not president Hamid Karzai truly independent. since president Hamid Karzai had appointed all seven of its members. it was the first time they were held under an Afghan-led election commission.837810 97 .” 16 September 2009. 12 Democracy International.12 It was vitally important for Afghanistan to have a free The Independent Election and fair be-a-real-winner/ 14 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

nytimes. As the Afghan constitution states. With dozens of questions Dr.67 percent of the votes. one of the two Afghan members of the UN-dominated Electoral Complaints Commission. a run- off election was scheduled for November 7 because none of the candidates received 50 percent of the votes. nor for the Independent Election Commission . Abdullah were the two eligible candidates to run for the presidency in the second round.59 percent. especially in the Pashtun-dominated provinces in southern Afghanistan. In response. The New York Times. Caucasus International The certified final result was announced on October 21. The accessibility problem was a major factor. Approximately 1 million votes were invalid and excluded from the final count.S. Hamid Karzai had 49. he was the focal point of the criticism from the Western bloc. In the 2004 elections. 21 August 2009. more than two months after the since none of his demands for the electoral process.nor even for Hamid Karzai himself. A day after he pulled out of the 16 It was not a success for race. Karzai and Dr. however. Abdullah withdrew from the run-off vote on in their minds. where the turnout was as low as 5 to 10 percent.nor even for Hamid Karzai With dozens of questions in their minds. available at http://www. Karzai had received full support from the U. Abdullah Abdullah had 30. available at Abdullah-pulls-out-of-Afghan-presidential-election-run-off. free and fair citizens had completed election was not possible. and its allies about foreign interference in the presidential election process. Almost 27 percent of Karzai’s votes were fraudulent. “Abdullah Abdullah pulls out of Afghan presidential election run-off”. Even Mawlawi Mustafa Barakzai. the termination of the November 7 run-off and confirmed Hamid Karzai as the winner and Afghanistan’s next nor for the Independent president. Karzai accused the U.15 Following the official announcement of the first 1 November 2009. It was not a success for the Afghan government. Afghan himself. citizens had completed the electoral process. Election Commission . in 2009. Afghan November 1st. Voter turnout was slightly more than thirty percent. the Independent Election Commission announced the Afghan government.telegraph. but this round never took place. and other candidates had lower percentages of fraudulent votes. One of the reasons for the much lower voter turnout was that a large number of polling stations were not opened on election day due to security concerns.html 16 The Telegraph.html 98 . “Two Claim to Lead Afghan Race for President”. resigned over ‘foreign interference’ in 15 Carlotta Gall. changes had been met. He declared that a transparent. and NATO countries.S. and the first round runner up Dr.

org/odihr/ elections/40753 18 Democracy International. available at http://www. 338. in the country’s history. A much-needed political transition.S. for the first time. cit. given that they have already refused this request based on the Constitution. cit. available at http://www. The conclusion was crystal clear: the 2009 presidential elections had been a failure in all aspects.osce.. an elected president will be replaced with be the most important one another elected president. Special Report No. it will represent the first big step in Afghanistan’s because. the IEC chairman Yousof Nooristani has declared that the election date cannot be changed based on the constitution and electoral law. Canada. however. If the IEC has to postpone the election for technical reasons or due to weather conditions.19 A Possible Delay? The 2014 presidential election will be the first in Afghanistan’s history to be held in spring. Afghanistan by the end of 2014. 2014 Afghanistan Presidential Election The April 5th 2014 presidential election will be the most The April 5th 2014 important one in the country’s history. if an elected president will implemented smoothly.18 This three-month period started with election day and came to an end with Hamid Karzai’s inauguration on November 19th. 8 December 2009. “2014 Presidential and Provincial Council Elections in Afghanistan”. November 2013. Based on the April 5th timetable. Vol. 19 Zekria afghanistan-election-karzai-idUSBRE9B107O20131202 21 Zekria Barakzai.reuters.21 it will be highly controversial.3 • No: 4 • Winter 2013-2014 the process. and the Netherlands– accusing them of “making all the decisions on their own”. 2 December 2013.20 One of the reasons for scheduling the election in early April was to reduce the risk of violence from the Taliban. op. is absolutely essential given that be replaced with another the international security forces are timetabled to leave elected president. Reuters. President Karzai has suggested delaying the April elections due to the weather concerns including possible heavy snow. for the presidential election will first time. 20 Jessica Donati & Hamid Shalizi. there 17 OSCE/ODIHR Election Support Team. holding the elections earlier than April 5th could have been beneficial in many ways. In fact. “Afghan president suggests poll delay to avoid snow.17 He blamed the three UN-appointed international officials – from the U. Warsaw. If that happens successfully. United States Institute of Peace. democratization. organizers say”. because. “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: Presidential and Provincial Council Elections”. op. 99 .

The word Afghan shall apply to every citizen of history. Qizilbash. 14. No. Caucasus International In fact. researchers. President Karzai should beneficial in many ways. and so there are several academics. timetable. According to the Afghan Constitution. 23 Article 4. Tajik generally used ethnic labels like Uzbek. “the nation of Afghanistan is composed of all individuals who possess the citizenship of Afghanistan. holding the will be very limited time to make things work between elections earlier than the new Afghan president and Western colleagues if he April 5th could have been has different ideas than Karzai. Special Issue: Nationalism and the Colonial Legacy in the Middle East and Central Asia. and generally used ethnic the rest of the population (non-Pashtun inhabitants) labels like Uzbek. Afghanistan new Afghan president and is unlikely to be ready for a sudden change in terms of Western colleagues if he NATO support.” New Haven: Yale University Press. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. 34. 2003. Uzbek. Tajik.based on ethnicity? In Afghanistan’s modern history. why would there be a problem of the population (non. and nobody knows where it might lead in the near future. Pashtun inhabitants) the term “Afghan” always referred to Pashtuns. Vol. Vol. “Paying for the Taliban’s Crimes: Abuses Against Ethnic Pashtuns in Northern Afghanistan”. Qirghiz. Tajik and Hazara and Hazara to identify to identify themselves. The nation of Afghanistan shall be comprised of Pashtun. Karzai. (May. “Taliban: Militant Islam. “Nationalism in Afghanistan”. the Transition Process is coming to an end and very limited time to make there are still many unanswered questions in relation to things work between the the Transformation Decade (2015-2024). journalists and officials who classify the issue as an ethnic one. in the Constitutional Loya Jirga (CLJ) of 2003 – before 22 For more on the issue. and the rest with the Constitution.22 What makes the discussion on the ethnicity so important in Afghanistan is the 2004 Constitution itself. themselves. Human Rights Watch. Turkman. Gujur. Nuristani. 62. 2. Human Rights Watch Report. Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. 299-315. Hazara. Aymaq. Baluch. International Crisis Group Asia Report. there will be Also. Arab. “Afghanistan: The Problem of Pashtun Alienation”. 24 Anthony Hyman. International Crisis Group. No.”23 always referred to If all the ethnic groups are called “Afghan” in accordance Pashtuns. 2000. There is an ongoing peace process. The Candidates It is quite common to discuss the Afghan issue in terms of the ethnic groups. 2002. 2 (C). 2002). Brahwui and other In Afghanistan’s modern tribes. 100 . These uncertainties make everything has different ideas than much more challenging for this election. International Journal of Middle East Studies. have demanded a presidential election sometime in Based on the April 5th summer 2013. pp. the term “Afghan” Afghanistan. see: Ahmed Rashid.24 In order to solve this problem. No. Pachaie.

Vol. nominating candidates from different ethnic groups for the vice presidential positions (in alphabetical order): i) Abdullah Abdullah: He is the son of a Tajik mother and a Pashtun father. but generally considered a Tajik. The best way to express this notion to the public. July 2004. demanded the acknowledgement of the multiethnic structure of Afghanistan and for the citizens to be called “Afghanistanis” instead of Afghan. Pashtuns. The Wall Street Journal. He ran against Hamid Karzai and finished second behind him in the 2009 presidential election with more than 30 percent of the vote. pp. a former warlord.3 • No: 4 • Winter 2013-2014 the ratification of the Constitution – the representatives of the northern bloc. He has the support of Balkh provincial Governor Mohammad Atta Noor. not accepted. a powerful name in the northern Afghanistan. and Hazaras – and gather them with and Hazaras – and the state administration by giving them a chance to be gather them with the represented in the presidential office. available at http://online. It is quite important for a presidential candidate ethnic groups – mainly to reach out to other ethnic groups – mainly Pashtuns. 26 For more information about Abdullah Abdullah and his opinions on the election. 3. “Crafting a Constitution for Afghanistan”.wsj. Tajiks. 15. Having taken a look at the big picture.25 This demand angered the Pashtun representatives of the Loya Jirga and it was. Uzbeks. 2 October 2013. needless to say. Rubin. Tajiks. Uzbeks. His vice-presidential nominees are Mohammad Khan (Pashtun). is having vice presidential candidates to be represented in the from different ethnic groups. Abdullah is a former Afghan foreign minister (2001-2005) and head of the National Coalition of Afghanistan. The president-to- state administration by be must at least have projects and goals on this specific 101 . Abdullah is the only non-Pashtun candidate among the 11 names. see: “Abdullah.26 ii) Ashraf Gani Ahmadzai: He is a Pashtun technocrat 25 Barnett R. as was the case in 2009. Speaks About His Presidential Campaign”. mainly Tajiks and Uzbeks. in Interview. Vol. as giving them a chance a threshold matter. one can see the It is quite important for importance of ethnic issues in Afghanistan. It is revealing that the four leading presidential hopefuls have followed this strategy. Journal of Democracy. and Mohammed Mohaqeq (Hazara). 5-19. a senior member of Hezb-e-Islami movement. presidential office. No. The ethnic a presidential candidate identity of a candidate does matter in the presidential to reach out to other elections.

who is the former justice minister. His vice-presidential nominees are Wahidullah Shahrani (ethnic Uzbek). former vice-president (2004-2009) and brother of the Ahmad Shah Massoud. are Rassoul’s running mates. in Interview. He was President Karzai’s transition advisor before he announced his candidacy.28 iv) Zalmai Rassoul: He is a Pashtun medical doctor from Kandahar. and Habiba Sarobi (Hazara). The Wall Street Journal. available at http://online. He also ran in the 2009 presidential election but gained less than 3 percent of the vote. However. It was surprising for many when he picked Rashid Dostum. Ashraf Gani served as the finance minister between 2002-2004 and afterwards as chancellor of Kabul University. was picked to appeal to the Hazara vote. He was also a former national security adviser. The Wall Street Journal. Explains Why He Is Competing in Afghan Vote”. Danish. Before returning to Afghanistan shortly after the fall of the Taliban regime. available at http://online. where important decisions on Afghanistan’s immediate administrative order were taken. he is very influential in the Uzbek community and can win the Uzbek vote.27 iii) Qayum Karzai: He is the older brother of President Hamid Karzai. 30 September 2013. and Ibrahim Qasemi (Hazara). a former 599298 28 For more information about Qayum Karzai and his opinions on the election. He has not received an official endorsement from President Hamid Karzai. 8 October 2013.29 27 For more information about Ashraf Gani Ahmadzai and his opinions on the election. Ahmad Zia Massoud (Tajik). who has served as minister of mines. as his first vice president since he is a controversial figure in the Afghan politics. see: “Ghani. Rassoul served as foreign minister before resigning to run for office. Karzai is a businessman and former 29 For more information about Zalmai Rassoul and his opinions on the election. see: “Q&A: Afghan 102 .Caucasus International and his vice presidential running mates are General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Uzbek) and Sarwar Danish (Hazara). He participated in the 2001 Bonn Conference.wsj.wsj. an Uzbek former warlord. he was a well- known academic in the United States and also spent several years working for the World Bank. see: “Q&A With Afghan Presidential Candidate Qayum Karzai”. former governor of Bamyan and minister for women’s affairs.

In addition.” The appointment process for commissioners was changed after many discussions with civil society organizations and political parties.30 To be able to do that. The higher the voter turnout. 32 Ibid. with attention to “national participation and gender balance. throughout the whole election process. the regulations regarding the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission are positive developments. op. available at http://online. the higher the levels of satisfaction and ownership all stakeholders will feel in regard to the elections. as happened in 2009. The capacity of the Afghan National Security Forces (Afghan National Police and Army) to provide sufficient security during the preparations.”31 Another issue is the security challenges that were so problematic in 2009. 30 Zekria Barakzai. 103 . the timetable was set long before the election date and the preparations were started relatively early. election day.wsj. Presidential Candidate Zalmai Rassoul”. Security has to be the priority on the 2014 election agenda.32 The International Security Assistance Force has to be on the ground side-by-side with Afghan forces under these circumstances. the officials have worked on multiple drafts of the legislation under a new title: “the Structure and Responsibility Law of the IEC and ECC. vote counting term. 13 November 2013. Opening as many polling stations as possible on the election day and keeping them secure will directly influence the voter turnout. preventing the opening of ghost polling centers could also protect against massive fraud. The Wall Street Journal. 31 Ibid. and possible post-election riots and demonstrations does not seem sufficient. Then the president has to pick 9 names for the IEC and 5 for ECC from the list. and it must work within the structure and in accordance with its legally defined responsibilities in order to gain the support and trust of all stakeholders. declaration of results. In addition. cit. The independence and objectivity of the IEC were much debated in 2009.3 • No: 4 • Winter 2013-2014 Conclusion In comparison to the 2009 elections. The new law requires the selection committee to nominate 27 candidates for IEC membership and 15 for ECC membership. It is now crucial that the neutrality of the IEC is not an issue.

Increased engagement by civil society organizations. and most importantly the Afghan citizens themselves. observers (both local and international). 104 . He has also declared that he will not allow any government official to intervene in the election process. 33 Ibid. party agents.Caucasus International The incumbent president Hamid Karzai has repeatedly said that he will not support any candidate in the upcoming election. the media. The latest presidential decrees support what Karzai says in terms of ensuring better elections. The success of the 2014 presidential election hinges on these factors. could lead to free and fair elections. even though one of them is his brother. the success of all these actions and statements depends on the work done in the field.33 However.