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Afghanistan: Candidates Threaten To Boycott Election Unless Karzai Resigns

Hamid Karzai (file photo) Prague, 19 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A group of candidates for the Afghan presidency have been meeting in Kabul to discuss whether they can unite against Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai. The meetings are the first public attempt by the candidates to form a unified opposition.

One member of the group, Abdul Satar Sirat, claimed that all of Karzai's 17 opponents will call for a boycott of the October ballot unless Karzai resigns within one week. But at least four of the candidates deny the claim. Sirat announced his demand at a Kabul news conference yesterday when he accused Karzai of abusing his position as the Afghan Transitional Administration head in a bid to favor of his election campaign.

"We gave the government one week. The president and the government must resign within that week and form a new administration. The new administration should be discussed by [a council comprised of the 17 rival candidates for the presidency]. If they don't do this in one week, this council will meet and we will discuss a boycott of the
elections," Sirat said.

RFE/RL's correspondents in Kabul reported that at least 10 of the 17 candidates running against Karzai in the October presidential elections have confirmed Sirat's claim that they are considering a boycott of the landmark vote unless Karzai disbands his government within the next week. But four of Karzai's opponents have rejected Sirat's claim.

Candidate Homayun Shah Asifi, a member of the family of Afghanistan's former king, Zahir Shah, said he does not support Sirat's statement. Asifi said it is entirely within acceptable international norms for a head of state to be a candidate. Asifi said Karzai's resignation ahead of the election would create a power vacuum in Afghanistan that would hurt the country.

Others who say they have not agreed to back the calls for Karzai's resignation include the only woman in the race, Mas'uda Jalal, as well as candidates Abdul Hadi Khalilzai and Ghulam Faruq Nijrabi.

Karzai's spokesman Javed Ludin said today it would be illegal for Karzai to resign. In fact, under Afghan electoral law, all government officials are required to step down from their positions 75 days before the vote. But the one exception to that rule is the president.
"Mr. Sirat arrived in Afghanistan just two days before the announcement [earlier this month] of the final list of candidates in the presidential election. Perhaps he doesn't have enough information [about the law]." - Ludin

Moreover, Ludin told reporters in Kabul that the Afghan Constitution specifies that the Transitional Administratio head should continue in power until presidential elections have been completed and the winner has taken office.

"This proposal for Karzai's resignation is clearly against the constitution of Afghanistan. I have a copy of the constitution. If our candidates need to see it, it is possible to send it to them. Mr. Sirat arrived in Afghanistan just two days before the announcement [earlier this month] of the final list of candidates in the presidential election. Perhaps he doesn't have enough information [about the law]," Ludin said.

Ludin also rejected allegations by Sirat that Karzai had appointed an election commission that favors his own candidacy.

Ludin noted that Afghanistan's National Security Council -- and not Karzai -- had selected the United Nations-backed Jointed Electoral Management Body. He also said Karzai's chief rival, former Education Minister Yunos Qanuni, was serving as an adviser to the National Security Council at the time and had attended its meetings on the election commission.

Despite the denials, Sirat's remarks represent the first public attempt by opposition candidates to present a united front against the U.S.-backed Karzai, who is considered the frontrunner.

Some of Karzai's opponents have been meeting during the past week in closed-door talks about how political alliances might be established and whether some candidates would be willing to quit the race in favor of others.

Those talks have included Qanuni, who is part of the powerful bloc of ethnic Tajik anti-Taliban commanders from the Panjshir Valley. The negotiations also were attended by Safiqa Habibi, the vice-presidential running mate of northern Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Political analysts say it will be difficult for Karzai's rivals to form a unified coalition against the incumbent president. Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, says Sirat's boycott threat is unlikely to draw a unified response and that most presidential candidates are using the election campaign to advance their own political agendas.

Meanwhile, Sirat said discussions among Karzai's rivals on uniting behind a single candidate are continuing.