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Sharing the stage

Zafar Shah Rouyee and Uzra Shamal
Presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani are under pressure by the United States to share power in the next government. But would this arrangement benefit Afghanistan?
31.07.2014  |  Kabul

The future shape of the Afghan government is at stake in the wake of the electoral crisis that shook the country following last month’s presidential election. While the intervention of U.S. secretary of State John Kerry restored political order, the formation of a coalition government—a pivotal point in the détente between presidential hopefuls Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah—remains contentious for both political camps. While some experts view a power-sharing arrangement as the only way of securing future stability, others worry a coalition would fail to efficiently address such fundamental civic needs as good governance, reconstruction, security and provision of services.

Ghani’s Evolution and Continuity Team, which prevailed over Abdullah in the June 15 run-off according to the disputed election result, remain opposed to a coalition government. Supporters held a demonstration in Kabul July 21 to express their opposition to the scheme.

“If we lose the elections, we will never ask the [Abdullah’s] team to let us join them in a coalition government, and we won’t ask for executive powers,” Ahmad Zia Massoud, a high-ranking member of Ghani’s campaign team, told journalists July 25. “We would rather become part of civil society and form an opposition.”

According to Massoud, Ghani’s team believes in a unity government where all ethnic and social groups are represented, but is not interested in building a coalition. Forming a national unity government does not mean dividing up the political power, which would push Afghanistan into anarchy and instability, he said. “A coalition government would exacerbate political and administrative enmities within the political structure,” he added. “It would stop a government from pursuing [reform] objectives.”

The view that a power sharing arrangement might perpetuate the current political deadlock was also voiced by Naeem Nazari, chairman of the Civil Society and Human Rights Network and an expert on political affairs. Instead of addressing public demands, a coalition government would preoccupy itself with protecting the interests of its political factions, he told Afghanistan Today. As a result, Nazari added, leaders would assign key posts based on political sway rather than technocratic skill, thus jeopardizing the standards of good governance.

But Barry Salaam, another political analyst, described a governing coalition as “ideal”, but said politicians must overcome their enmities to avoid destabilization. “Political cleavages may develop between the president, vice-presidents and the executive,” he told AT. “This may lead them to undermine one another and monopolize ministries.” Salaam added that the shape of government is not as important as fair representation and efficiency. Over the past twelve years, policymakers forgot their main mission was public service, he said. Instead, political groups focused on controlling important Cabinet positions. Without consensus, power sharing will not work, he added.

Others saw a coalition government as the only way of ending the current tensions and political crises. Although competition among the two political factions is likely to marginalize public demands, it will ensure a power-balancing system that lies at the root of the formation of a new Afghan state, said Asef Aashna, a political activist. “As long as we do not come up with a logical and reality-based solution to the fight for power in Afghanistan, we will not be able to have good governance.”