The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating. The coalition government, led by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdulllah Abdullah, has failed miserably to improve the lot of Afghans or, at least, to halt further deterioration of the situation. Unless the trend is reversed, large protests and disorderly change of leadership cannot be ruled out. The so- called National Unity Government of Afghanistan and donors ought to be cognizant of such prospects.
The Afghan economy has suffered great losses during the past year. Economic growth has dropped to below zero; unemployment has risen to over 40 percent; the national currency has lost 22 percent of its value; the number of people living under the poverty line has increased to over 40 percent; massive flight of capital is continuing; neither Afghans nor foreigner are interested in investing in the country; over one million people have left the country; and, daily, 5000 Afghans apply to acquire new passports. People have lost confidence in Dr. Ghani’s and Dr. Abdullah’s government to manage the economy or the country. This is reflected in a recent poll which indicates government’s popularity at 19 percent.
Actually, the government’s poor performance record is not confined to mismanagement of the economy. it is equally bad in matters of security and governance. Non-political crimes are increasing. Kidnapping has become quite common in most cities. Most rich people have taken their families out of the country because of fear of kidnapping.
By the government’s own admission, corruption has increased dramatically. In contrast to their campaign promise of promoting meritocracy, appointments to top government positions are based on personal relations, especially with President Ghani and his family members. There is a wide public perception that most important positions in the bureaucracy are for sale .People also believe that the top leadership is aware of this malpractice.
The government lacks a sense of urgency. Ghani and Abdullah spent eight month to form a mediocre cabinet. The government had to postpone parliamentary elections because it could not agree on reforming the Electoral Commission.
Initially, the coalition’s peace with Taliban initiative was quite popular. However, right now, even the peace initiative does not seem a success. Instead of peace, this year Taliban’s summer offensive is exceptionally strong, wide and destructive.
Dr-Ghani’s and Dr- Abdullah’s government lacked procedural legitimacy from the outset because the formation of the government was not based on the results of transparent election; rather, with pressure from the U.S. Government, it was based on a pragmatic agreement between the two contenders to share power. And, the government‘s very poor performance record hurts its substantive legitimacy. Worst yet, most informed people believe that the performance of this government is not likely to improve, both because of the difficult nature of the coalition agreement and lack of chemistry between the two leaders.
Most Afghan politicians are aware of the gravity of the situation. There has been some discussion about the need to change the leadership. There have been two main proposals to this effect: (1) a new interim government based on elites consensus; and (2) new leadership based on fresh elections. The interim government option has two variants: First, the formation of interim government as part of peace accord with the Taliban. The desire for peace among Afghans is so strong that they are willing to accept an extra- constitutional government, at least for a while. And, second, even without a peace accord with the Taliban, given the ineffectiveness of the current government, some people justify the formation of an interim government, composed of the most capable individuals from the entire political spectrum, until transparent elections can be held.
The main problem with this option is the absence of fair and objective criteria for inclusion/exclusion in government. Furthermore, of course, this is also an extra – constitutional arrangement. Both variants of interim government require suspension of the constitution, which is quite a heavy price.
The early elections option does not require any suspension of the constitution. It is fair, it is constitutional, and it is not uncommon. The need for early election arises when in a parliamentary system government loses its majority in parliament, or when a government faces a very difficult issue which requires fresh mandate from the electorate. Greece and Turkey had general elections a few months ago and, due to very difficult new circumstances, they will have fresh elections soon. Actually the situation in Afghanistan is more serious than the problems in Turkey and Greece.
I believe that early elections can solve the crisis of legitimacy and establish an effective government in Afghanistan. The argument against early election is the presumed lack of transparency without electronic IDs. This is a false argument. The government has not even begun distribution of electronic IDs; the completion of that project requires four to five years. The incompetence of the current government is absolutely clear in its management of electoral reform. With competent management and genuine commitment to transparency, it is possible to have honest elections even without electronic IDs.
Even though some donors now recognize the need for change in government and, in private, have shown willingness to finance fresh elections, some very important donors still believe that there is no alternative to the present painful situation. I think this sounds almost immoral.
I believe that fresh elections are a very good alternative. The status quo is neither desirable nor sustainable. Rejection of orderly constitutional change might lead to protests and disorderly unconstitutional change which is not in the interest of Afghanistan or donors. Furthermore, some rumors maintain that President Ghani is seriously ill, to a point that he cannot perform presidential duties; and, some rumors say he is terminally ill. While I wish him quick and complete recovery, these reports add to the urgency of preparation for fresh elections.
View expressed in this article are of the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Pajhwok’s editorial policy.