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Afghanistan election: Why the next parliament won't check Karzai's power

The results of Saturday's Afghanistan election aren't expected for days, but because the parliamentary candidates ran as individuals, not as party members, they are unlikely to unite in opposition to President Hamid Karzai.

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But Saqib became disillusioned.

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"I said goodbye to Abdullah," says Saqib. "I told Dr. Abdullah that 'I joined your team because … we know where we are going to, with whom, how.' That was for [the presidential] election. The election is over, and I can't see such plan. I don't know where we are going."

She says that a European government had been interested in financially supporting Abdullah's movement as a way to foster healthy democratic opposition.

But a diplomat from that country told her privately that interest faded when Abdullah failed to offer any plan or goals, but said he could do little since he had no money.

In a press conference before the Sept. 18 election, Abdullah said his movement supported around 300 of some 2,500 candidates. He said his group could not support them financially, but did help them fundraise and organize.

"We have just laid the foundation for the National Alliance for Change and Hope. That's very young," he said.

His deputy, Homayoun Shah Assefy, emphasized that the young movement was not a political party with narrow ideologies, but a big tent for everyone wanting change. "It will take time to have all of our friends vote in the same way," says Mr. Assefy.

The slow pace of Abdullah's movement is spawning competitors for the opposition mantle.

"There is no address for political opposition in Kabul," says Haroun Mir, an analyst-turned-candidate from Kabul. "A year has passed. Can we afford to wait another year or two when we all know the fate of Afghanistan will be decided in the next couple of years?"

Mr. Mir is running under the umbrella of Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghanistan's intelligence agency. Mr. Saleh fell out with Karzai over the president's warming relations with Pakistan and the Taliban leadership, and is trying to start his own opposition movement.

Mir says such opposition needs to be built before international forces pull out so that there will be some group with a real political base to sit down opposite the Taliban.

"If tomorrow the international community decides we will move toward a political settlement, who would be able to represent the majority of Afghan people who are opposed to the Taliban? There is no voice for them," says Mir.

"Are we offering an exit strategy for the Taliban," he asks, "or are the Taliban offering an exit strategy for President Karzai or the US?"

At the moment, Western governments are signaling they want a stronger check on the president – a change from their initial preferences, codified in the Constitution, for a strong executive.

"The argument that it's good to have one person to deal with is how the Constitution was set up in 2004," says William Maley, an Afghanistan expert at Australian National University in Canberra. "The problems with having Karzai be that person have become palpable at this point."

In Pictures: Afghanistan election