Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, January 21st, 2018

Controversy over Electoral Reform

Election is a key element in democratic systems and people have the right to elect their president and representatives through their suffrage. Democracy without the will of nation and their right to vote is meaningless. Since democracy is simply defined as “government of the people, for the people and by the people”, nations’ will play a significant role in democratic states. Parliament, which is the beating heart of democracy, is supposed to embody nations’ determination and its members are to be selected via transparent, secret, public and free election.
Following the fall of the Taliban’s regime, Afghanistan was redirected to democratization. The Constitution of Afghanistan – which entitles the individuals to exercise their natural rights and liberty and recognizes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Charters – was approved and national sovereignty belonged to the nation “manifested directly and through its elected representatives.” Moreover, presidential and provincial elections were conducted and Afghan men and women flocked to ballot boxes for electing their president and representatives – this marked a milestone in the history of Afghanistan.
Since the nation took part in building state for the first time, they celebrated the festival of democracy (election) and hoped that democracy would be a panacea for their chronic wound, bleeding as a result of war and violence that continued for decades. Afghan women embraced freedom and equal rights with men. During the first presidential election a number of women got entry into the parliament. The process of democratization seemed to move rapidly and women took active parts in social and political activities. Patriarchal system and sexual discrimination, which held strong sway during the Taliban’s regime, were abolished by new law.
However, the unbounded hope of Afghan people did not last long as the process of democratization encountered barriers from the state machinery. The transparency of election slowed down and a sense of mistrust emerged between state and nation. Political parties exploited their influence and disturbed the transparent flow of the election. The Constitution was violated by political figures during campaigns and elections and the independence of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) was put under question, mainly during the 2014 presidential election as Muhammad Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah were involved in disagreement over the outcome of election and the IEC failed to announce the final result. Subsequently, Abdullah and Ghani negotiated a political agreement and formed National Unity Government (NUG). A central part in the negotiation was a commitment to electoral reform. After a protracted disagreement between them on who should lead the reform portfolio and what should be its composition and authorities, the NUG finally formed the Special Electoral Reform Commission (SERC) as prescribed in the political agreement to review and propose reforms to electoral structures and laws. Since then, the reform was slow and unsteady, though under hot discussions.
In his recent statement, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr. Abdullah said one of the important points of the political agreement on the national unity government was electoral reform. According to him, the way for the Wolesi Jirga and district council elections had been opened after the cabinet approval of the draft election law. The cabinet approved the draft, underlining the imperative of a single-seat system at polling stations. He further added, “Another important pledge of the government is convening a Loya Jirga (National Grand Assembly) but the time is not right for it because of the upcoming elections. We hope the Jirga will be held after the elections.”
Reportedly, the cabinet has approved “in principle” a draft election law, underlining the imperative of a single-seat system at polling stations for the upcoming Wolesi Jirga polls. A statement from the Presidential Palace said that Ghani had tasked his second deputy Sarwar Danish with finalizing the draft law keeping in view cabinet suggestions.
In past presidential elections, there was only one polling station in the entire country. In parliamentary polls, each province had its own polling station and the number of representatives each province could elect was from 2 to 33 – proportional to its population. In short, out of 249 seats, 239 seats were divided among the provinces and 10 others were considered for nomads. However, under the single-seat election system, the polling stations will be divided into 249 and each station will be allowed to send only one representative to the parliament. At each polling station, votes are cast only for candidates from the relevant area.

Currently, the issue of “single-seat election” has triggered anxiety among the people since the country is not ripe for it and it will place great hurdle for women, who are to form 25% in parliament. Dividing polling stations into 249 parts seems backbreaking financially for a country which suffers from economic recession and will minimize the chance of women to gain enough votes in such minute stations. However, if the single-seat election be considered only for men, as some political pundits believe, elections will be held twice for men and women, which will be more costly. According to public beliefs, a single-seat election will not be suitable for Afghanistan and the electoral reforms should be done in accordance with the status quo so that it alleviates the challenges rather than aggravating them.