Posted by: Christian | June 24, 2007

Who Will Be Afghanistan’s Next President?

June 24, 2007.

Speculating about future Presidential candidates in the USA seems to be somewhat of a national sport in which political commentators embarass themselves by making horribly incorrect predictions as much as four years in advance. So, instead of sharing with you a prediction that will surely turn out to be horribly incorrect, I will offer my opinion on what makes for an electable candidate in Afghanistan.

With a limit of two five-year terms Karzai can be re-elected and serve until 2014. And even with his popularity slipping, the last comprehensive polls late last year showed his approval rating at  levels that Euro or American leaders would be quite satified with. The World Public Opinion poll  gave Karzai a 55% “very favourable” rating while the BBC/ABC poll showed Karzai at 68% of Afghans  giving Karzai a “good” or “excellent” rating.

           Karzai Prez

So Karzai is still electable in the next election, especially considering the dearth of viable alternative candidates. The other well-known politicians are unelectable for a number of reasons. These include:  

#1. Unelectable ethnic minority status. These would be the obvious people such as the Hazara leaders Khalili and Mohaqeq, the Uzbeks Dostum and Shahrani, etc…

#2. Afghans who are way too American. I’m thinking Ali Ahmed Jalali and Zalmay Khalilzad.

#3. Discredited Jihadis with very narrow support bases that do not extend beyond certain Tajik sub-groups. Rabbani is prime among this group that would include Yunus Qanuni, Ismael Khan, Ahmed Zia Massoud, etc…  

#4. Any Pashtun without some sort of academic, professional or business credentials. Afghans are not going to elect some guy based only on ethnic affiliation and tribal status.

#5. Any Pashtun with too much historical affiliation with the Communist government or Hizb-i Islami.

#6. Any Pashtun who scares the non-Pashtuns. You need to break the 50% barrier to become president. Pashtuns are somewhere around 40% of the population (probably, maybe, debateably), so a winning candidate who is Pashtun would need to reach out Karzai-style to a number of non-Pashtun voters.  

#7. Women.

#8. Any Afghan who is usually given a thug, warlord, criminal, or friend-of-the-Taliban designation.

#9. Anybody who was in the Western diaspora for too long. Living comfortably in California for more than a decade would probably give you an Ahmed Chalabi level of popularity and legitimacy.

But with this being said, politics can be quite unpredictable and Afghanistan is even more so unpredictable. Karzai could quit, he could commit some major blunder that would delegitimize him, and of course he could be assassinated. However, I still see him as reelectable in 2009. Karzai’s popularity may be sliding but so is every other leader’s approval ratings ( no, I can’t quantify this at the moment). Come 2009, Hamid Karzai could be seen as the lesser of the Afghan evils (the least worst candidate).

          Karzai2

If there is someone out there who can be elected in 2014 or beat Karzai and become President in 2009, he is an ethnic Pashtun moderate with a respectable education, profession or business. Furthermore, he should be able to point to his (or his father’s) struggle against the Soviets and or Taliban (a struggle that did not include cashing cheques written by Hekmatyar). Also, he will have to make strategic promises of cabinet positions and patronage in order to secure the endorsement of some non-Pashtun leaders. And don’t expect a first round win by anyone but Karzai, he did it last time with 55.4% of the vote and 21 of 34 provinces. With his present approval rating he could probably do that again.


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