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Afghanistan: With Presidential Election Recognized, Focus Shifts To Karzai's Future Cabinet

Hamid Karzai has been officially confirmed as Afghanistan's new president. With the announcement of the official election results from the 9 October ballot, Karzai is now set to be inaugurated by the end of November. But first, he must name his cabinet.

Prague, 4 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Final official results from Afghanistan's presidential election confirm that transitional leader Hamid Karzai won the support of 55 percent of voters in the country -- nearly 40 percentage points more than his closest rival, ethnic Tajik former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni.

Qanuni told reporters today that he accepts the results, despite lingering accusations of fraud, because it is in Afghanistan's national interest for him to do so.

"I'm sure that if we don't recognize the results of the election and we question the legitimacy of this vote after the [official] declaration of the results, the country will go through a crisis. And the crisis will be because of confrontations between the supporters of different candidates. Their arguments and political positions will lead, in the end, to war and military clashes and ethnic tension," Qanuni said.

Karzai's other top rivals -- ethnic Uzbek commander Abdul Rashid Dostum and ethnic Hazara leader Mohammed Mohaqeq -- also announced today that they recognize the results.

Karzai is expected to deliver a victory speech in Kabul later today.

The developments come after an independent panel of investigators, set up by the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body, said yesterday that the outcome of the race had not been altered by problems with the indelible ink meant to stop voters from casting multiple ballots.

Craig Jenness -- a former Canadian diplomat -- is one of the three investigators on that panel.

"There were fewer problems on election day than many experts had anticipated. The most publicized problem -- misapplication of indelible ink -- took place in many, although probably not the majority of, polling centers. This was the result of technical and administrative failures. There was no political motive. Most importantly, it did not result in significant numbers of multiple [votes]," Jenness said.

The focus of political observers in Afghanistan is now shifting to the next step in the forming of a government. Karzai -- an ethnic Pashtun -- must name his cabinet choices before his inauguration ceremony at the end of November.

Karzai pledged during the election campaign that he would not have a cabinet of warlords. But Vikram Parekh, a Kabul-based researcher for the International Crisis Group, told RFE/RL that the official results could make it difficult for Karzai to keep that promise.

"On the one hand, [Karzai] won with a large margin over his nearest challenger. But I think the really significant thing about this election is how much it reveals about the divisions that remain in the country -- particularly ethnically and regionally. And although [Karzai] did well in urban areas of the north and west, on the balance it looks like, in rural areas, the bulk of the people voted for individuals who he would like to exclude from his next cabinet. Consequently, I think he is going to have a harder time [leaving those people out of his cabinet]. Most of the people who might have worn the tag of 'warlord' before will now be able to say, legitimately: 'We represent our people. We represent Uzbeks or Hazaras or Tajiks.' So [Karzai] may not have quite the free hand that he had hoped to get," Parekh said.

Parekh said he thinks talks are already taking place in Kabul about a possible coalition cabinet that could include representatives from some of Karzai's rivals, such as Qanuni or Dostum.

"There was a list printed in one of the major Kabul dailies two days ago with a tentative list of cabinet members -- apparently leaked from the office of Karzai's running mate, [the ethnic Tajik] Ahmed Zia Masud. This list of cabinet allocations was essentially overwhelmingly Pashtun. I think it probably represents something more that some people in Karzai's circle might want to see rather than something that is actually achievable. Simultaneously, there are reports about ongoing talks with Qanuni, with Dostum. There is still probably an intensive negotiating process going on. You have various scenarios [for the next cabinet] -- one in which you would have some former Northern Alliance personalities and another in which they would be excluded," Parekh said.

Karzai's aides deny that the newly elected president is making any overtures about a coalition cabinet. But one senior Afghan government official told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that there may be fewer changes from the current transitional cabinet than expected.

Still, several current cabinet members are expected to be forced out of the government by technical requirements under the new Afghan constitution. One requirement is that each Afghan minister must have a university degree.

Qanuni, Dostum, Mohaqeq, and current Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim do not have such a degree.

Parekh says the test for Karzai will be his ability to push ahead with internationally backed programs aimed at demobilizing and disarming the militia fighters of Afghan warlords.

"A 55 percent majority, in which the bulk of that is Pashtun votes, is not going to be something that -- in practice -- is going to really give [Karzai] the mandate to go after militia leaders and get them to comply with the [disarmament, demobilization and reintegration] program. He is almost certainly going to have to make an overture to at least one of the opposition camps -- and do this at the same time as staying true to his campaign pledge of excluding warlords. It's going to be a very difficult balancing act," Parekh said.

But Afghan experts say the legal mandate Karzai received by winning more than 50 percent of the vote is all the authority he needs to push ahead with militia disarmament.

Among them is Mohammad Musa Maroofi, a professor of Afghan law who was a member of the commission that drafted Afghanistan's current constitution.

"Now, what is important is what will happen in parliamentary elections next year. It seems there will be no strong [opposition] party. There could be an opposition party. But it won't have strong, nationwide support. There will be individual members of parliament. But those individuals will not [be unified] in opposition to the president," Maroofi said.

Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani says he thinks Karzai will avoid major compromises that bring warlords into his cabinet. Rabbani is an ethnic Tajik from the same Panjshiri political faction as Qanuni. But Rabbani supported Karzai over Qanuni in the presidential race.