MPs at the Lower House of Afghan parliament (Wolesi Jirga) rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s decree on amendment of the country’s electoral law. The MPs argued that based on the constitution, they had no right to amend the country’s electoral law as the MPs’ term has ended. The constitution specifically bars MPs from amending electoral laws while it is the last working year of the incumbent representatives. The President issued the legislative decree for amendment of the electoral law after the electoral reforms commission concluded its work some days ago and delivered its recommendations to the government. This comes after the Wolesi Jirga rejected Ghani’s decree on the amendment of the law on structure, functions and responsibilities of electoral commissions last week. The rejection of the presidential decree once again is going to delay the finalization of the reform process to the electoral law and the election bodies overseeing the elections. This in turn may further cause delays and disruptions to the upcoming parliamentary elections which is expected to be held early next year.
According to Afghanistan’s constitution, the parliamentary elections should have been held in the months of May or June of this year, and the new parliament should have been inaugurated in July. However, due to technical and financial challenges, the President extended the working term of the current parliament for another year. Bringing reforms to the electoral institutions of Afghanistan was one of the main points of political agreement which led to the formation of the national unity government in Afghanistan. Based on the agreement, a special reform commission was set up about six months ago to recommend reforms to the electoral system as well as the structures of the bodies responsible for the elections. The electoral reforms commission concluded its work this month and finalized its recommended amendments to the election law as well as the structure, functions and responsibilities of electoral commissions.
Due to the failure to complete the reform process as predicted, a new date for the parliamentary elections is yet to be determined. And it remains unclear if the government and the parliament will be able to set a new date soon and prevent another delay in holding the country’s key parliamentary elections. Both the House of Representatives and the government need to work harder to deliver the task of reforms to the election law and the electoral commissions as soon as possible. The lengthy process for the reforms should be carried out with more urgency so the ground would be ready for the electoral commissions to get preparations for holding the upcoming elections. The Afghan government and the parliament need to explore ways to end the stalemate on the electoral reforms and complete the reforms considering every possible ways of preserving the constitution and based on the long-term interests of the country.
A solution based on consensus among the Afghan political spectrum and the state institutions along with considering legal aspects of the matter is needed to end the legal and political deadlock. All parties, including the government, the political parties and the parliament need to remain committed to ending the constitutional stalemate over the electoral reforms process and the upcoming parliamentary elections. The state of constitutional limbo over the country’s electoral system and the current term of the parliament would serve no one’s interest, while a failure in producing sound electoral reforms would further undermine the country’s democratic experiment in the long run. Breaking law has become a trend as there have been many sways from the country’s constitution by both the government and the parliament in the last over a decade of democratic era. All of the Afghan political spectrum and state institutions need to recommit to preserving law and end the culture of systematic violation of the constitution.
The new electoral law should ensure transparency and fairness of the upcoming parliamentary elections – and the future elections of the country. The urgent need for a sound political development of the country is a concrete result from the ongoing electoral reforms process. This may require consensus-making efforts and compromises by the involved authorities. When produced, the reforms to the country’s electoral system, law and commissions should ensure fairness and soundness of the upcoming elections and help safeguarding the country’s bruised democracy. The legitimacy of the country’s political system must be restored. The ongoing reform process has provided a crucial opportunity for correcting some of the many flaws existing in the current electoral law and system. This would be critically important not only for the upcoming elections but also for the credibility sustainability of the whole democratic experiments of Afghanistan.
Both the Wolesi Jirga and the government should work together to reach a compromise over how best to carry out the reforms to the electoral law and the responsible commissions. The remaining task for implementation of the electoral reforms should be carried out on time so to prevent further delays in announcing a date for the upcoming parliamentary elections and possible setbacks in the reforms process. The Afghan state institutions and the political spectrum must have learnt much from the scandals of the last year presidential elections. There is no time for repeating them.