Afghanistan will hold its parliamentary election on Saturday. This will be the third time post-Taliban that the country has gone to the polls to elect members to the lower house of parliament, known as Wolesi Jirga — its official name as per the Afghan constitution. More than 2,000 candidates are running nationwide for 249 seats, including those reserved for women, which are aimed at encouraging their role in national politics.
Afghanistan has a strong presidential system. The role of the lower house of parliament is to legislate, monitor the performance of the government, approve the national budget and endorse members of the Cabinet. The parliament must also play its role with regards to important national issues in the form of parliamentary debates, and as adviser to the executive branch of the state. Unfortunately, the legislative branch of government is quite often at loggerheads with the remaining two pillars of the state — the executive and the judiciary.
Democracy is yet to institutionalize in Afghanistan and members of the parliament often fail to fulfill their roles. Some members are hardly even aware of what their constitutional roles are, never mind fulfilling them. Electoral politics in Afghanistan is unfortunately not issue-based. The capital Kabul has a large number of candidates that originate from across the country. It is unfortunate that they will get votes based on ethnicity, language and geographic affiliations, not beliefs or political or economic policies. The majority of candidates have put slogans on their election brochures that are beyond the jurisdiction of the parliament, often falling within the powers of the executive branch of the government.
Saturday’s election offers the people of Afghanistan the chance to send new faces to parliament in a bid to redefine the country’s parliamentary politics in the interest of the nation.
Past experiences from Afghan elections are not very encouraging. It often takes months, not days, for Afghan election results to be finalized, mainly due to dispute resolutions, complaints regarding election frauds, and accusations of irregularities that need to be investigated. It is hoped that the measures taken by the national unity government will speed up the election results announcement this time.
Parliamentary politics in Afghanistan is often replete with practices that are very unhealthy for democracy. For example, most parliamentarians run around ministries and other executive organs of the state for personal requests, appointments and to get governmental contracts. The Afghan Cabinet must get the endorsement of the lower house of parliament as per the constitution — this leaves ministers at the mercy of the parliamentarians. Not agreeing to their demands, even if illegitimate, could mean a threat of no-confidence. This has created a vicious circle within the parliamentary politics of Afghanistan. It is hoped the upcoming parliament puts an end to this tradition.
Afghanistan is still experimenting with its fledgling democracy. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) must make sure that the elections are held in a fair and transparent manner. There are ongoing rumors that the government favors certain candidates at the cost of others. For the strengthening of democracy, the IEC must act completely impartially by providing a level playing field for all candidates, including the hundreds of women. Any interference by the government will set a bad example for future electoral events. Let the people decide who goes to parliament, not the government.
The upcoming election is important in that a large number of young and emerging politicians are in the field. In terms of demography, Afghanistan is one of the youngest countries in the world, where more than 60 percent of the population is below the age of 30. The election offers the country the chance to send new faces to the parliament that can redefine Afghanistan’s parliamentary politics in the interest of the nation.
- Ajmal Shams is President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party and is based in Kabul. He was a Deputy Minister in the Afghan National Unity Government and served as Policy Adviser to Dr. Ashraf Ghani when he chaired the security transition commission before his presidential bid.