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Afghanistan: 'Loyal Opposition' Plans Election Strategy

Mohammad Yunos Qanuni (file photo) In two recent private and candid discussions with RFE/RL, Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, leader of the 12-party coalition National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli, JTM), spoke about the Afghan opposition's election strategy and his own personal reflections about the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai as well as relations between Kabul and Washington. Part 1 of a two-part analysis of Qanuni's views focuses on JTM's election priorities and polices.

By virtue of securing 16 percent of the votes in Afghanistan's October presidential elections, second only to Karzai's 55 percent, Qanuni has become the strongest opposition leader in Afghanistan and has been chosen as the leader of JTM, which was formed in late March (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 April 2005) as the main opposition front against the Karzai government.

In his talks with RFE/RL, Qanuni made it clear that he still believes, though he currently leads a "loyal political opposition," that during the October elections many irregularities occurred, robbing him of certain victory. "On the whole we accepted the current government, despite the fact that I won 53 percent of the votes to Mr. Karzai's 24 percent," Qanuni asserted. A U.S. government official whom Qanuni chose not to identify told him that he had "secured the votes while Karzai got the victory."

Afghanistan In Crisis

According to Qanuni, since the October elections Afghanistan's overall situation has regressed because the current "leadership has failed" to take advantage of a "golden opportunity" presented to Afghanistan in the form of strong international support. Karzai's former interior and later education minister added that his "friend" Karzai is a weak leader who presides over a "weak cabinet" and that his government lacks a "strategic, national agenda." Karzai's policies are "driven by ethnicity and private gains," Qanuni said.

As such, Afghanistan's main opposition leader asserted that his country was moving toward "a crisis."

Unlike Karzai, Qanuni predicted that the elections for the lower house of the Afghan parliament and the provincial councils scheduled for September will not end the government's malaise or the increasing levels of violence in the southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan.

Qanuni said that the only way to address the current crisis is through implementation of reforms, which he emphasized should be "real, not symbolic." If the Karzai government initiates reforms, especially in the electoral procedures, prior to the September polls, "we shall have a united parliament." Otherwise, Qanuni warned that the parliament might be factionalized.

Yunos Qanuni listed "national unity, stability, and security," as the three main essential steps to get Afghanistan out of its current quagmire and as broad goals of the JTM.

The Opposition's Goals

Repeating that JTM was a "legal opposition," Qanuni said the front he is leading is "against mistaken policies of the [Karzai] government," but that it did not want "the government to fall," which he stressed would be "tantamount to giving Afghanistan to Pakistan."

To achieve its goals, prior to the September polls the JTM plans to strengthen the positions of individual candidates representing any of the 12 political parties; enhance cooperation between the parties; and observe the election process for irregularities, which according to Qanuni were widespread during the October presidential elections.

In order to ensure that the September elections are fair and free, Qanuni suggested that the UN-Afghan Joint Election Management Body and the Election Commission are independent; that the votes be counted in the polling stations rather than being transported to counting centers; that the office for lodging complaints about election irregularities be independent of government control; that larger cities be divided in electoral districts; and that the population estimates be made more fair.

JTM's goals during the elections will be obtaining a larger majority of the seats, Qanuni explained, adding that his front wants the "politicization of the struggle rather than the use of gun," and the "rationalization and legalization of the struggle."

Once the JTM has secured enough seats to become the main opposition to Karzai's government, Qanuni said that his party and his coalition partners will demand the reforming of the cabinet, which he said was "not based on equality." He also emphasized working to accelerate the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration programs under way; deal with the narcotics problem in Afghanistan -- Qanuni added that currently the "police are a mafia"; and reform the Afghan National Army and National Police.

Constitutional Change

The most controversial plan of the JTM, as explained by Qanuni, is changing the current Afghan government system as enshrined in the constitution from a strong presidential system to a prime-ministerial system. "How can we help Karzai's weakness?" Qanuni asked, and then answered his own question, "by creating the post of a prime minister through a Loya Jirga."

Whether the "loyal opposition" headed by Mohammad Yunos Qanuni will be capable of achieving all of its stated goals is impossible to predict at the moment. Surely his call for national unity, stability, and security will go over well with not only Karzai's government, but with Afghanistan's foreign backers. However, Karzai and his supporters fought hard and made some difficult compromises to write a constitution with a very strong presidency -- power the current president does not seem likely to relinquish.

The fact that, after decades of Afghanistan's politics being determined by violence and intimidation, the main opposition figure sits in his villa on the outskirts of Kabul and, while clearly expressing his disappointment with the political process, confirms his loyalty to the system in place, is a major leap forward for Afghanistan. It would be a disservice to Afghanistan's long and difficult march toward becoming a democratic nation-state to have elections in September that are not transparent and are not deemed by a majority of Afghans as being fair. In this, the burden first falls on the shoulders of the Afghan government and only then on its foreign supporters and the "loyal opposition."