Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, May 25th, 2018

Challenges of Democracy in Afghanistan

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Challenges of Democracy in Afghanistan

Openness is one of the main characteristics of democracy. Democracy opens the political process to all actors including those who oppose it. This characteristic is both the strength and weakness of the democracy especially in countries with weak economy and strong authoritarian systems like Afghanistan. Election is one the areas that show the weakness and strength of democracy in emerging democracies very well. Powerful traditional groups with strong religious backgrounds have used this characteristic of democracy in emerging democracies to ensure their own interests and have put in danger the future of new and fragile liberal democratic institutions. These groups either intend to impose theocratic authoritarian institutions or are willing to forego their objectives and subject themselves to democratic control. In the first case the outcome of such act is clear: democratization fails, through the full implementation of the traditional religious groups. In the second case the outcome is unclear: democratization may fail, but it may also succeed. This article explores the second case.
Incumbents in an emerging democracy like Afghanistan face challenges who are likely to win a mandate that make it possible for them to apply their transformational and reform program. Incumbents, in control of the state’s repressive apparatus, seek guarantees to protect their basic interests and their future access to power, while challengers seek power so that they can enact their program. To complicate matters further, both incumbents and challengers typically are divided internally into moderate ad radical groups.
This strategic setting has two fundamental underlying features. First, neither incumbents nor challengers can turn their preferences into policy. In emerging democracies like Afghanistan traditional groups usually make the most use from democratic processes like elections to undermine democracy or get it to fail. As in emerging democracies, both ballots and bullets are available, democracy only can be the outcome of compromise and we have observed it in all elections of Afghanistan with no exceptions. Second, contrary to typical transitions compromise is hindered by challengers, traditional and religious identity, as well as by the expectation that they are likely to win an electoral majority that will make possible the full implementation of their program. Incumbents, including military apparatus of these groups and secular democrats, find this prospect unacceptable. While an institutional mechanism, coalition cabinet, imposes compromise on plurality winners, only force or the threat of force can prevent mandate winners from implementing their full program. In emerging democracies constitutional provisions of checks and balances are not enough. Incumbents find it easier to resort to force before the lose elections (when they are certain that they will lose the elections), rather than after they have lost. However, resorting to force after they have lost is also an option on the table yet. However, the use of force by incumbents ends democratization and compromise though prevent it will hinder structural reforms may the liberal groups had on their agenda to implement after winning the elections.
As we have seen in Afghanistan, when the incumbents control the state’s repressive apparatus and challengers cannot enforce their electoral victory, the accession of challengers to power following their electoral victory presupposes the incumbents’ acquiescence. Rational challengers in such situations will have an incentive to signal that, once in power, they will behave moderately and will even guarantee the incumbents’ interests (integrating them in the system and sharing the power to some extent with them). However, rational incumbents may distrust (in most cases) such signals and view the challengers as a “Trojan Horse” as it is the case in countries like Afghanistan. The challengers’ credibility is further undermined by their reputation for “pious passions, strong beliefs, and inflexible values” and their ideological principles, which include (or are plausibly seen to include) the rejection of liberal democracy and liberal values as a principle. Yet for democratization to succeed in Afghanistan, it is necessary for traditional religious groups to solve their commitment problem. They must send credible signals about their post electoral behavior prior to the elections an issue that has never happened in Afghanistan and has always threatened and undermined the legitimacy of the elections and acted as barrier to recognize the democracy its mandates.
To sum it up, democracy is an open system. This characteristic of democracy keeps the door open for all sides to take part in democratic processes for both liberal and traditional groups pursuing their own agendas. Democracy may sustain its path in Afghanistan if traditional religious groups have a moderate interpretation from Islamic teachings and compromise on shared values of Islam and democracy instead of focusing on controversial issues.

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