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News Analysis: Afghan President’s Critics Losing Patience Over Delayed Vote

For American officials, the pressure mounting on Mr. Ghani has been particularly awkward: Some of their closest Afghan allies over the years, still essential to the military campaign, are rallying against a political leadership in Kabul that is perceived to be protected by the Americans. (Mr. Ghani shares half of the cabinet posts with his coalition partner, Abdullah Abdullah, who has the title chief executive. Yet the president is at the receiving end of most of the pressure.)

The largest recent rally against Mr. Ghani was organized in Kandahar Province on Dec. 2. The invitation list included more than 70 members of Parliament, former governors and cabinet ministers, and some local elders. Many in the front row had been vocal supporters of Mr. Ghani, helping elect him to office.

Playing host behind the scenes was Gen. Abdul Raziq, the province’s police chief, whose influence stretches across much of southern Afghanistan, largely because of the American military’s support for him.

Afghan and Western officials say that American military leaders — including the senior commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. — spoke to General Raziq as the rally got underway, though their message for him was unclear.

A spokesman for General Nicholson, Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, would not comment on the nature of his “many engagements across Afghanistan,” but said that the commander encourages Afghan police and military leaders to remain apolitical.

Before the Kandahar rally, Mr. Ghani barred government employees from attending such opposition gatherings. He ordered an investigation into the private township in Kandahar developed years ago by the Karzai family — which happened to be where the rally was taking place.

One of the key participants there was supposed to be Atta Mohammed Noor, a former warlord who remains at the helm of Balkh Province, a prosperous area in the north, despite Mr. Ghani’s attempts to oust him. As Mr. Noor and dozens of other northern leadership figures prepared to fly to Kandahar, their plane was refused permission to take off.

“The leadership of the government did not give us permission to go to Kandahar,” Mr. Noor said. “This is an unlawful, unethical and inhumane action. I hope they come to their senses.”

In Kandahar, the rally was delayed for a second time in the hopes that Mr. Noor would make it.

“We are giving this government a clear warning: that if Mr. Noor is not given permission to fly within 12 hours, the consequence will be very bad,” said Humayoon Humayoon, the deputy speaker of Parliament and one of the rally leaders who used to strongly support Mr. Ghani. “This the death of democracy, for which we have given a lot of sacrifices. We cannot live in the presence of a dictator president.”

When the rally finally happened, without Mr. Noor, it turned out to be smaller than billed.

Mr. Ghani’s advisers have seized on that, insisting that threats of mobilization against the president are mostly bluffing. They see much of the political opposition as the old patronage networks halting Mr. Ghani’s reform efforts to protect their own fortunes.

Opposition leaders say that is precisely the kind of black-and-white thinking that has left the government struggling politically.

Meanwhile, the election reforms that Mr. Ghani promised as a precursor to the parliamentary vote have still not coalesced.

The country’s electoral commission was a focal point of accusations of fraud surrounding Mr. Ghani’s election in 2014, but an overhaul and reconstitution of that panel remain incomplete: It lacks a leader and about 40 percent of its staff. Nationwide, the number of polling stations in every area, a politically and ethnically delicate issue in a country that lacks reliable census data, has yet to be finalized.

Financing for the vote, which could cost as much as $ 200 million, still remains unresolved, although the international community has footed the bill for past elections.

Particularly important is the issue of a new voter list. Millions more voting cards are in circulation than the country’s number of eligible voters. Cards have been issued in the names of Tom Cruise, Bruce Lee, Arnold (Schwarzenegger, known here by his first name alone) and, by some accounts, Britney Spears.

Abdullah Ahmadzai, a former chief electoral officer of the election commission, said votes repeatedly unearthed some of Afghanistan’s deepest social and political fracture lines, every time requiring heavy-handed Western intervention to find a way out. Yet there has been little success in working to ensure that the next election is less of a threat to stability.

“You can’t keep all the ambiguities there every time and still expect fair elections,” Mr. Ahmadzai said.

Source: NYT > World

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