Election officials in Afghanistan have begun accepting the nominations of would-be candidates for presidential polls set for April 5, which could be the first peaceful transfer of power in the history of the war-torn country.
The Independent Election Commission, while formally opening the presidential race on Monday, gave candidates until October 6 to submit their nomination papers.
Afghan political parties and groups are making hectic efforts to form new election alliances and coalitions. The presidential race so far, though, has been wide-open and there is no "consensus candidate."
Media speculation has focused on Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, opposition politician and former presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani and member of parliament Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf as being some of the potential candidates. None of them, however, have officially confirmed they will run.
Transferring security responsibilities
The winner of the election will replace incumbent President Hamid Karzai and will oversee the final phase of transferring security responsibilities to Afghan national forces when NATO ends its combat mission by the end of next year.
Mahmood Karzai, a brother of the incumbent Afghan president, said that despite security fears in the wake of stepped up Taliban insurgency and other domestic issues, the historic election will be held in time and will go a long way in stabilizing Afghanistan.
“This is the first time in our elections that people are coming up with polices and they are explaining to the public what they would do if they become president," said Karzai. "Well, this is great news [for our country]. Many people are consolidating their powers, their parties. I think Afghanistan is [moving] in the right direction because everybody’s interest is in a peaceful transfer of power,” he said.
Afghan commentators and media say that party-based politics and election coalitions are a new development in the country, where tribal worlds traditionally have influenced the outcome of elections.
Some also believe that while the democratic practices will undermine the monopoly of the warlords, they will also make it difficult for an individual to win the next presidential election without being part of a major alliance.
Mirwais Yasini, the first deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, said, “A team can be workable and can lead this country, but individuals are difficult in the circumstances that Afghanistan has been through. It will be difficult that we can rely on an individual, so there has to be a good team to lead this country.”
Under the new election requirements, observers say the number of contenders is expected to be far less than in previous presidential ballots. A candidate is now required to deposit a substantial fee of around $18,000 [one million Afghanis] and submit the voter identification details of 100,000 supporters from at least 20 provinces.