Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Afghan Coalition Fails to Agree on a Candidate for President

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Afghan Coalition Fails to Agree on a Candidate for President

Article excerpt

KABUL -- With 2,000 supporters crammed into a chandeliered hotel ballroom Thursday, a dozen of Afghanistan's most powerful men gathered to announce that they had formed a "grand coalition" to contest presidential elections in April and would announce a single candidate within the next several weeks.

But the event, delayed by a faulty sound system and chaotic seating plan, seemed to go wrong in other ways, too. The row of leaders seated onstage, mostly former militia bosses from the Afghan north, did not include several prominent technocrats and new faces many invitees had hoped to see. The applause was tepid, and the rush to lunch was swift.

In the end, weeks of private negotiations among political players -- from ex-warlords to ex-diplomats -- seeking to forge a new culture of consensus and ideas to replace ethnic and personality politics, fell far short of that lofty goal, leaving the pre- election picture as murky and mercurial as ever. Several analysts predicted that the coalition would last no more than a few weeks.

"It is a very confused situation. There is a lot of horse- trading, but a lot of mistrust," said former Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, a longtime U.S. resident who is part of a separate, technocrat-based electoral coalition. "We all know that the survival of the state is at stake, and the political structure has to change. But with only a few weeks before the deadline, we still have no idea who the candidates will be."

The election is widely seen as a make-or-break moment for Afghanistan. A decade of tumultuous democratic rule under President Hamid Karzai is ending, and the country is entering an uncertain political era, as Taliban fighters continue waging an aggressive anti-government insurgency and Western troops start dwindling to a few thousand by next year.

In technical terms, the preparations are going relatively well. More than 350,000 new voters have been registered at hundreds of sites across the nation, a new Afghan election commission has been chosen, and information about potential candidates and issues has spread via cellphones, Facebook and Twitter across a vast, mountainous country, where winter snows can cut off half the population. …

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