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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Asia > South Asia > Afghanistan > Afghanistan: From Presidential to Parliamentary Elections

Afghanistan: From Presidential to Parliamentary Elections

Asia Report N°88 23 Nov 2004


The October 2004 presidential election went well, and Afghanistan now has its first ever popularly elected president. But the parliamentary, provincial and district elections now scheduled for April 2005 will be considerably more complicated, and preparations are going too slowly. If the parliamentary vote is delayed again -- it was originally to have been concurrent with the presidential election -- there is a risk that the Karzai administration's legitimacy will be seriously tarnished. Both his government and the international community need to put in more resources and make more progress in the next few months on improving security, cutting down the power of the warlords, and attacking the spreading influence of the drugs trade.

The key lesson from the presidential election is that Afghans strongly want a say in their governance. Afghanistan's constitution establishes a relatively strong presidency and weak parliament. The latter's primary importance rests on the fact that it will provide political representation to all Afghans as well as a check on presidential power. Given the deep ethnic polarisation, it is essential that the multi-ethnic, multi-regional population has pluralistic and participatory avenues to express its demands and articulate its grievances through parliamentary elections. A further delay in those elections would damage the credibility of the new governmental system, particularly if the Karzai administration proves not to be ethnically and regionally inclusive, with respected representatives of Afghanistan's various communities.

The Karzai administration must pick up the pace of preparations for the April elections. There are many challenges to be overcome if they are to be kept on course. The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), the body responsible, must not lose any more time. District boundaries must be set, and accurate population figures -- needed to determine the number of National Assembly seats in each province as well as provincial and district council membership -- have to be gathered. If these polls are to be credible, the JEMB must be seen as impartial and independent, which requires it to bring new members on board. And the international community -- which has been quick to claim credit for the presidential election -- must display greater urgency and commitment to this next critical stage of the democratic transition.

Overshadowing all the preparations are fears about security. Insurgents, principally the Taliban but also Hizb-i-Islami forces loyal to Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, have made clear their intention to disrupt the elections. Yet, as the presidential polls amply demonstrated, Afghans are keen to participate in the electoral process despite such threats.

The other, and perhaps, leading risk is posed by the continued dominance of factional militias throughout the country. Regional and local commanders' control of military, police, and intelligence resources, sometimes simultaneously, gives them access to revenue streams that can generate patronage and undermine the political space for opposition parties and other political forces. It is unlikely that all militias can be fully disarmed and demobilised in the near future but the process has to be accelerated and every attempt made to contain the domestic spoilers. Those who continue to lead militias must be excluded from the political process, as intended by the Political Parties Law and the Electoral Law.

Attention should also be paid to the lessons of the presidential election. The 9 October vote was an historic event, the country's first ever-direct election for its head of state. The high turnout, orderly conduct of voters and absence of widely expected violence demonstrated the strong desire of Afghans to participate in their country's political process. President Hamid Karzai won convincingly with 55.4 per cent of the vote, well ahead of Younus Qanuni (16.3 per cent). With some exceptions, however, voting was largely along ethnic and regional lines.

Karzai received the vast bulk of votes in the Pashtun east and south as well as a comfortable majority in the multi-ethnic west and multi-ethnic urban centres, including Kabul. Qanuni received 95 per cent of the votes in his native Panjshir province, but picked up less than expected of the Tajik vote from other provinces. The other leading candidates, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Haji Mohammad Mohaqqeq received the bulk of the Uzbek and Hazara vote respectively. The remaining 14 candidates shared less than 8 per cent.

This clearly reflects Afghanistan's deep ethnic polarisation and the continuing undue influence of militia leaders in the political process. Karzai has now committed himself to removing the warlords, whom he recently described as probably the greatest danger facing the country. Yet, he also faces the task of forming a government that has strong support in provinces where a majority voted either for militia leaders, including Dostum and Mohaqqeq, or individuals dependant on militia support, such as Qanuni. This underscores the importance of including all ethnic and regional constituencies in government through a democratic process -- a key step being the formation of an elected parliament and provincial and district institutions. Karzai faces an equally daunting challenge of purging his administration of corrupt individuals, including those involved in the flourishing drugs trade. Failure to act decisively would seriously damage his credibility and set a poor precedent for administrative reforms elsewhere in the country.

Much remains to be done if the parliamentary, provincial and district elections are to proceed as scheduled. The process may well have its flaws, as did the presidential polls, but these polls are an essential landmark in the political transition. The government and the international community must redouble efforts to ensure they are not delayed again.


To the Karzai Government:

1.  Accelerate preparations for the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People), provincial and district elections in April 2005 and seek necessary funding.

2.  Issue decrees defining powers and responsibilities of provincial and district councils, and delimiting district boundaries based on current cartographic data, increase efforts to obtain official population figures or estimates for each province and establish a boundary dispute resolution mechanism, with representation from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Interim Electoral Commission, UNAMA, and all political parties.

3.  Undertake a comprehensive public information campaign, with particular attention to radio and television, to educate voters and candidates about the upcoming elections.

4.  Strengthen the role of political parties in the political process by amending the Electoral Law to replace the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) system with a party list system and amend the Electoral Law to provide the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) with sufficient time to vet parliamentary, provincial and district council candidates for linkages to drugs, al-Qaeda, Taliban violence, or involvement in human rights abuses.

5.  Revise the Political Parties Law so that the process is insulated as far as possible from political pressure and manipulation, in particular by:

a) transferring registration authority from the justice ministry to the Interim Electoral Commission; and

b) providing for appeals against deregistration through successive tiers of the justice system.

6.  Appoint a new Interim Electoral Commission -- with current members eligible for reappointment -- through a transparent process, with public consultation, and excluding candidates with links to militias or responsible for human rights abuses.

7.  Review appointments to provincial and district security posts, and ensure that all provincial police chiefs, and as far as possible, district police chiefs, are police academy graduates.

8.  Commence planning for the operation of the National Assembly and provincial and district councils, including by starting construction of the National Assembly building, making arrangements for housing and transportation for parliamentarians, and recruitment and training of parliamentary staff, and preparing facilities for provincial and district councils.

9.  Continue to push for the disarming, demobilisation and reintegration of the militias before the elections and rigorous enforcement of the benchmarks contained in the Political Parties Law, where necessary with the support of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Coalition forces.

To the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB):

10.  Set and announce as a priority the precise April 2005 election date for the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People), provincial and district elections.

11.  Re-open registration, particularly in provinces where there was low voter registration in the presidential election or low female voter registration, and create a voters roll, using existing registration and voter data as well as data obtained through the new registration exercise.

12.  Appoint an independent panel, composed of representatives of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Interim Electoral Commission, and UNAMA, to investigate complaints before and after the elections by candidates and voters, with decisions and findings to be made public and dealings with candidates and political parties otherwise open to scrutiny.

13.  Make necessary arrangements well ahead of time for the conduct of the parliamentary elections including:

a) deployment of international and non-partisan national electoral observers;

b) visible security, particularly in remote and conservative provinces, to reduce the threat of attacks on voters, including women voters;

c) availability of mobile voting units in rural areas so that voting is not impeded by restrictions on travel; and

d) separate polling places for men and women in conservative areas, including sufficient female staffing.

To the United Nations:

14.  Prioritise preparations for the parliamentary, provincial and district elections, in particular through active and substantial assistance for the population survey, the new registration exercise, demarcation of district boundaries and a public information campaign.

To Donors and Intergovernmental Organisations:

15.  Call for elections to be held in April 2005 and provide all necessary financial and logistical support to keep them on schedule, in particular allocating and rapidly disbursing funds for:

a) a post-enumeration survey of the household listing, and the census proper, to be carried out by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Central Statistics Office (CSO), and ensure that UNFPA has sufficient technical experts based in Afghanistan to monitor the CSO survey teams carefully;

b) the registration of new voters in advance of the parliamentary elections and preparation of the voters roll; and

c) a comprehensive public information campaign, including nationwide voter and civic education and special efforts with regard to provinces in which small percentages of women voted in the presidential election.

16.  Assure sufficient funds for deployment of international observers for the parliamentary elections in each provincial centre as well as in district centres that have been cleared for movement by the UN security coordinator.

17.  Help build the capacity of future Afghan legislators through first hand exposure to other parliaments, including exchanges of parliamentary delegations.

To NATO/ISAF and the Coalition:

18.  Secure troop commitments for Phase Two of ISAF expansion, covering western Afghanistan, complete deployment prior to the parliamentary elections including of rapid reaction battalions able to reinforce the Afghan National Army and Afghan police, and define timetables for Phases Three and Four covering the south and east.

19.  Mandate ISAF and Coalition forces to support the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process through cantonment of heavy weaponry, inspection of suspected weapons depots, and enforcement of agreements between the ministry of defence and UNAMA to decommission specific units of the Afghan Military Forces (AMF).

20.  Begin an assessment of the numbers and locations of non-AMF militias with the aim of assisting the Afghan government to demilitarise the entire country.

21.  Distance the Coalition from militia commanders who have stakes in the drugs trade but are currently cooperating in anti-Taliban operations, and adopt and encourage a counter-narcotics strategy based on interdiction, law enforcement, alternative livelihood, and eradication -- in that order.

Kabul/Brussels, 23 November 2004

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