Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, April 19th, 2018

The Controversy over Electoral Reform

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The Controversy over Electoral Reform

Following the 2014 presidential election, Muhammad Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah negotiated a political agreement to form a National Unity Government (NUG). A central part in the negotiations was a commitment to electoral reform. Since then, the process of electoral reform has been slow and unsteady. After a protracted disagreement between President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah on who should lead the reform portfolio and what should be its composition and authorities, the National Unity Government finally formed the Special Electoral Reform Commission (SERC) as prescribed in the political agreement to review and propose reforms to electoral structures and laws. On September 06, 2015, President Ghani issued two decrees amending respectively the Electoral Law and the Structure Law. The amendments to the two laws adopted some of SERC’s recommendations. However, the Wolesi Jirga rejected both decrees on December 21 and 26, 2015. Following suit, Meshrano Jirga also voted down both decrees, on January 05, 2016. On February 28, 2016, President Ghani issued two new legislative decrees to endorse the Electoral Law and Structure Law apparently approved by the cabinet on February 10, 2016.
On June 11, 2016, the long-awaited, presidential decree on the Structure Law was put on the agenda and the Wolesi Jirga debated hotly over the issue. MPs shouted at each other and on the officials of the house, the Administrative Board, trying to stop discussion and insisting they go directly to the vote. When MPs spoke in favor of the decree, others pounded the tables, not listening and trying to prevent others from hearing the pro-decree speeches. MPs like Farhad Azimi from Balkh declared the decree unconstitutional and a ploy by the government to send such a badly drafted decree that MPs would be forced to reject it and then would be blamed by the public for standing in the way of elections. Pro-decree speakers like Fawzia Kufi from Badakhshan accused anti-decree MPs of being so useless they were trying to block elections because they knew the public would not re-elect them. Still other members, like Abdul Satar Khawasi, from Parwan province who is a member of the Legislative Commission, said no decree was needed and the government’s “empty slogans of reform” should be set aside and they should get on with elections using the old commissioners.
The NUG’s commitment to reforming the election system has been renewed on Monday. Addressing a cabinet meeting, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah said that imperative of cleaning up the system should not be undervalued. It was a basic point of the agreement on government formation and a promise held out to the people. He is cited as having said, “We have been facing legal hurdle to reform in the election system. Unfortunately, we are late discussing things that should have been discussed a year ago.” He added that discussions on finding a legal way to implement the election reforms were underway.
On one hand, the government has started a campaign for approval of the reform decree but on the other hand, the election commissioners make efforts at rejecting the decree by the upper house. Hasibullah Kalimzai, deputy Senate chairman, said that both the government and commissioners along with administrative boards had met all senators individually. The meeting between the government and senators came to fruition and the upper house (Mesharano Jirga) approved the legislative decree on Tuesday by a majority vote.
The current Wolesi Jirga was elected on September 18, 2010 and its regular term was supposed to end on June 22, 2015. The Afghan Constitution states in Article 83 “…the work period of the House of People shall terminate, after the disclosure of the results of the elections, on the 1st of Saratan [22 June] of the fifth year and the new parliament shall commence work.” This effectively means that new parliamentary elections should have taken place and the election results announced before Saratan 01, 1394 (22 June 2015). The new parliament should have started work on that date. However, elections were postponed as the NUG had promised an electoral reform. Given this has not happened.
The current parliament’s mandate expired on June 22, 2015 without new representatives having been elected and without a new election date having been set at that point. In order to avoid a legal and constitutional vacuum that might have led the country even deeper into crisis, President Ashraf Ghani extended the parliament’s term on June 19, 2015. It allowed MPs to continue their work until the next parliamentary elections were held – whenever that would be. The extension of the parliament’s tenure was welcomed by some MPs.
Constitutionally, there is no provision that authorizes the president to extend the parliament’s term. Hence, the legitimacy of the current parliament is under a serious question. Some believe that this is a violation of constitutional law.
After all, the Wolesi Jirga does not have the authority to alter election-related laws in the last year of its tenure. Article 109 states, “Proposals for amending elections law shall not be included in the work agenda of the National Assembly during the last year of the legislative term.” This not only throws into question the legality of the current reform and forthcoming elections but also the legitimacy of some of the Afghanistan’s key institutions.

Hujjattullah Zia is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com

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