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Afghanistan: Eleventh Hour Disqualifications May Serve Questionable Candidates

The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB)disqualified 28 candidates on 12 September from participation in the country's 18 September polls. In July, the JEMB disqualified 17 candidates for having links to "unofficial armed groups," failing to provide a complete list of supporters, or failing to resign from government posts as required by law. According to a press statement issued on 12 July, the JEMB "certified the Final List of Candidates" for elections.

But the recent disqualifications have put the JEMB in a dilemma, since it has acted retroactively and altered its own certified final list of candidates in a manner not listed in its own stated schedule. Moreover, the names of the recently disqualified candidates will remain on the ballots -- something that could lead to confusion among voters and in the vote count.

On 13 September, an estimated 200 supporters of one disqualified candidate from Kabul Province demonstrated, complaining that non-Afghans who have no right to interfere in Afghan affairs control the JEMB. The disqualified candidate, Commandant Didar, is a former jihadi commander affiliated with the conservative mujahedin group led by Abd al-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf who later joined the Taliban.

He was standing as a candidate for the national People's Council, or Wolesi Jirga. The Electoral Complaints Commission accused Didar of having links with unidentified illegal militia groups. Didar backers have claimed that if their candidate is accused of wrongdoing, then he should stand before an Afghan court and be allowed to prove his innocence.

The fact that the JEMB's complaints commission has disqualified a candidate whom the body initially allowed to stand -- when the law stipulates that candidates shall not be "opposed to the principles of the holy religion of Islam"; shall not "use force, or threaten with, or propagate the use of force"; shall not have "non-official military organizations or be part" thereof; and shall not receive funds from foreign of "internal illegal sources" -- is in itself a positive step in Afghanistan's march toward establishing civil society and eventually democracy.

However, the fact that the JEMB has chosen to disqualify a number of candidates after its own deadline for disqualifications means the electoral watchdog has not only opened itself up to criticism, but might also have given an implicit blessing to other candidates with dubious pasts. The JEMB, backed by the Afghan government and its international supporters, apparently failed to fully utilize the period from March, when the final date for the parliamentary and provincial elections was announced, to July, when the final official list of candidates was announced, to identify candidates who continue to lead or participate in armed groups.

Critics have also suggested organizers also ought to have been more vigilant in ensuring that those individuals or political parties that are in any way connected with the country's booming narcotics industry are disqualified from running for office or in any way representing their constituencies. Instead, Afghanistan could get representatives who are both "armed" and heavily involved in the drug trade. The process could thus yield results contrary to the vision of Afghanistan enshrined in the constitution. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has countered that reintegration is essential to national reconciliation. He also said Afghan voters will choose the appropriate candidates to represent them, thus squarely placing the burden for Afghanistan's move to full-fledged democracy on the shoulders of its citizenry.

For all the latest news on the Afghan elections, see RFE/RL's Afghanistan Votes 2005

See also: Afghanistan: Banning Of Candidates Complicates Parliamentary Ballots