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08KABUL350 2008-02-12 13:17:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Kabul
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1. (SBU) The law and calendar for the 2009/10 elections have
erupted onto the top tier of the Afghan political agenda in
the past week following debates in both houses of parliament
and a flurry of meetings involving the three branches of
government. President Karzai privately convened influential
members of parliament to lobby for consolidated elections
based on the voting system used in the 2004/5 elections. The
leadership of both houses of parliament have seized the
initiative to stake out a position based on claimed public
support for introducing an element of proportional
representation into the election law. Parliamentarians
sympathetic to the opposition United Front's position
favoring a figurehead (Pashtun) president linked to a (Tajik)
prime minister seem to be using the Palace's press for
consolidated elections as a pretext for demanding a Loya
Jirga to ask for a revision of presidential powers. Karzai
is scrambling to regain the initiative and has convoked
international community representatives to discuss what they
will support.

President Lobbies for Consolidated Elections


2. (SBU) On February 3, President Karzai convened a meeting
of influential former mujahideen leaders and members of
parliament to broker a political agreement on when to hold
presidential, parliamentary, and provincial council elections
in the 2009/10 time-frame. The meeting reportedly included
lower house speaker Mohammed Yunus Qanooni, upper house
deputy speaker Hamid Gailani, Ustad Abdurab Rassoul Sayyaf,
and Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq. Karzai reportedly pressed the
members of parliament to support consolidated elections based
on the single non-transferable voting (SNTV) system used in
the 2004/5 elections.

Parliament Proposes Amending the Constitution


3. (SBU) Speaker Qanooni briefed the February 9 session of
parliament on the meeting with President Karzai. He said
that President Karzai advocated consolidated elections to
honor requests from the international community to minimize
costs. Qanooni voiced concerns about the constitutionality
of consolidated elections. He said that Sayyaf and Mohaqeq
also oppose consolidated elections, but others reported that
they differed on details. Chief Justice Azimi suggested that
the constitution does not forbid members of parliament from
leaving office one year prior to the completion of their
terms, permitting elections in the fall of 2009. (MPs are
unlikely to accept this solution. One idea may be to pay
their salaries through the end of their terms if they leave
office early.) Qanooni reassured members that elections
timing would be decided by the entire parliament, not just
the leadership, but framed the question as a contest between
executive and legislative prerogatives. Qanooni suggested
that the lower house begin its debate on February 13. That
same day legislative committee chair Saleh Mohammad Regestani
plans to publish a survey of public opinion, reportedly
showing public support for separate elections and
proportional representation.

4. (SBU) On February 10, an unusually proactive upper house
of parliament discussed the election calendar. Newly
re-elected first deputy speaker Hamid Gailani spearheaded the
debate, advocating a Loya Jirga to discuss election timing
and to alter the constitution to accommodate simultaneous
elections. Other senators interviewed by local media
discussed the need to "amend other articles of the
constitution." Gailani and deputy secretary Hossaini
subsequently confirmed that a small group of senators is
interested in reconsidering articles 60 and 159 of the

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constitution, establishing respectively the office of the
president and the dates for presidential and parliamentary
elections. (Gailani's prominent role suggests that rumors
about his presidential aspirations are well founded and that
he may be talking to the United Front about their idea of a
figurehead Pashtun president linked to a Tajik prime
minister, changes that would require constitutional

Karzai Looks for Cover from Donors


5. (SBU) On February 5, President Karzai's Chief of Policy,
Sebghatullah Sanjar, described the February 3 meeting as
fruitless. Sanjar advocated consolidated elections in the
fall of 2009. He urged international community leaders to
declare that elections would be combined and fix a date to
break the stalemate, saying Afghans would follow donors'
lead. Afghan politicians should make use of donor funds to
seek permanent solutions to their electoral problems: "build
a bridge to the future, not just throw a brick in the river."

6. (SBU) Sanjar confided that Karzai's positions on the
election calendar and law also reflect political expedience.
Karzai calculates that consolidated elections will tax the
ability of the opposition United Front leaders to manage
presidential and parliamentary campaigns simultaneously,
resulting in losses of parliamentary seats for the
opposition. He fears that proportional representation would
favor the United Front and other established parties that
developed out of the former warring factions at the expense
of newer, more reform-minded groups.

7. (SBU) On February 11, President Karzai invited senior
ministers and international community officials for a
discussion on February 13 of whether elections should be held
together or separately. He may plan to use concern to
minimize election costs voiced by some members of the
international community to bolster his position for
consolidated elections in the emerging battle of wills with

Politics Will Decide


8. (SBU) The debate over the election calendar and law remain
cloaked in discussions of constitutional integrity and
elections best practices, but the positions are based on
politics and personal ambition. Qanooni believes rightly
that mixed PR would favor the United Front, and Karzai
believes SNTV would put it at a disadvantage. Similarly,
Qanooni believes separate elections would allow him to run
for president and parliament, but Karzai seeks to combine
elections to hinder the United Front and Qanooni's own
ambitions. Qanooni also calculates that insisting on a
strict reading of the constitution -- which is vague on the
issue of election timing -- will force Karzai to either
abandon consolidated elections or force a constitutional Loya
Jirga, which would expose the constitution to more sweeping
changes favored by the United Front. Qanooni has little
reason to budge. The United Front will cloak its position in
unsubstantiated claims of public support, while President
Karzai tries to remain blameless by getting the international
community to constrain the scope of options.

9. (SBU) The process is underway and the stakes are high.
The calls for re-opening the constitution are an especially
worrisome reminder of the fragility of the current
constitutional order underpinning the regime and our own
engagement in Afghanistan.