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Afghanistan - Parlamentsvalg, september 2005

Afghanistan Elections: Endgame or New Beginning?

ICG (International Crisis Group), 21. juli 2005
Asia Report No. 101

Uddybende situations-rapport med anbefalinger fra International Crisis Group før Parlaments-valg og Regional-valg i Afghanistan i september. Valget til Afghanistans første demokratiske repræsentativt valgte parlament kan blive første skridt henimod en politisk stabilisering af Afghanistan, men en lang række forhold vil komme til at spille en måske afgørende rolle.


Elections for Afghanistan's National Assembly and Provincial Councils are a critical opportunity to achieve a sustainable peace in a country that is still emerging from a quarter century of conflict, created and exacerbated by ethnic, sectarian, regional and linguistic divisions. A representative and functional National Assembly could prove a crucial step in stabilising Afghanistan by allowing diversity of voices in decision-making. Provincial Councils could also help extend the authority of central government by introducing legally approved layers of devolution.

But the September polls will only succeed in stabilising Afghanistan's political transition if the elections are for institutions with properly defined roles and responsibilities; if the electoral system enables a true reflection of popular will; if the election process, including registration and vote counting is properly run; and if overall security is sufficient to allow for as free and fair a contest as possible in a country which still bears the scars of civil war.

In the 2004 presidential polls, Afghans had demonstrated immense enthusiasm for the political transition despite formidable security and other challenges. Preparations for these more complex elections are, however, set against a backdrop of electoral delays and neglect for the future institutions that will emerge.

Institutions. Little groundwork has been laid for legislative or locally devolved bodies. Instead all the eggs of state have been put in the basket of one man, the chief executive, President Hamid Karzai. Indeed the political environment created over three and a half years of the transitional process must call into question the ability of the new representative bodies to have a real voice in the future of Afghanistan.

If Afghanistan is to proceed on the path to stability, President Karzai's government and the international community will have to urgently build the new legislature's capacity. Defining the roles and the responsibilities of the Provincial Councils must become a priority for the National Assembly. And just weeks before elections are due, all stakeholders must collectively strive to make the process a success.

Electoral System. Instead of empowering political parties, essential for a successful political transition, Karzai's hostility has only added to their difficulties. The new Electoral Law -- not released until May, which excludes the use of party symbols on ballot papers, has undermined nascent democratic groupings, while old jihadi networks continue to have access to power and resources. The multi-member constituency Single Non-Transferable Voting (SNTV) system also works against new political parties that are, as yet, incapable of the sophisticated strategising and discipline needed to translate popular support into electoral victories. By encouraging appeals to narrow ethnic interests rather than broad-based constituencies, the electoral system could result in the absence of workable caucuses within the new National Assembly, further raising fears about the seeds of future instability.

Election Process. This has been marred so far by the lack of strategic planning on the part of the United Nations and the Afghan government. The two parts of the process that the Bonn Agreement specifically earmarked for the UN -- a pre-poll census and a voters' registry -- have been amongst the least satisfactory. This lack of planning has held these polls captive to a tight six-month timetable. And technical needs rather than the political aspirations of the Afghan people continue to drive preparations. Ballot production and distribution have received more time than the vetting of candidates in a land where numerous unpunished atrocities have taken place. Widespread civic education, essential given the lack of democratic experience, only got underway once the electoral process had begun. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees who took part in the presidential poll are likely to be disenfranchised for reasons of cost and convenience.

Despite the shortcomings of the electoral process, there are also some signs of hope. The Joint Electoral Management Body Secretariat (JEMBS), overseeing the election process, is pushing ahead with the hand it has been dealt and driving technical preparations for infinitely more complex polls at a faster pace than during the lead up to the presidential poll.

Over 5,000 candidates might make every stage of the preparations harder through sheer numbers, but these impressive numbers also demonstrate continued public interest in creating an Afghanistan where the ballot prevails, not the gun.

Tight electoral timelines place more emphasis on getting the work done, rather than capacity building. But some attention is finally being turned to the sustainability of electoral institutions and future polls. In the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and Provincial Election Commissions (PECs), the country has important new electoral bodies in place.

Security. Yet heightened insecurity continues to pose one of the gravest challenges to free and fair elections. In recent months anti-government activity, particularly cross-border attacks from Pakistan, has been on the rise, and election workers have been attacked. With multiple provincial contests, these elections may well see an increase in factional violence as local power structures are challenged and, in some cases, long-term rivals put in direct competition. Much of this could take place after the announcement of results as the new political landscape creates winners and losers.

These elections thus stand as both a testing ground and incentive for a number of on-going programs to build security. These include the disarmament of both official and unofficial armed groups; the expansion of the Afghan National Army (ANA); the professionalisation of the Afghan National Police (ANP); as well as reform of the judicial system and imposition of the rule of law.

The Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) program, aimed at officially recognised armed groups, has moved some 60,000 men out of the security equation and the ANA can also be seen as an embryonic success, adding to stability on polling day and beyond. Other processes, including the disbanding of Illegal Armed Groups (IAG) have, however, lagged behind. District and provincial governors, along with local police also remain a major source of intimidation, largely because of a failure, thus far, to professionalise the police and to rid local administrations of corrupt individuals.

While electoral vetting cannot substitute for a transitional justice process, a disappointing level of prudence over political will prevailed in assessing candidate eligibility, allowing many responsible for human rights abuses to contest the polls. Both the Karzai administration and its international supporters must recognise that the pursuit of stability and an end to impunity should proceed in tandem. The government must also ensure that the backroom deal-making which allowed some commanders to keep their place on the ballot in exchange for undertakings of ongoing disarmament is zealously followed up.

As largely trusted actors, the international security forces in Afghanistan will have to play a particularly crucial role in providing security and building trust before, during, and after the elections. However, the slow pace of extending a robust peacekeeping presence outside Kabul during the transitional period has allowed regional commanders to entrench themselves. Indeed, instability, combined with a climate of impunity, could undermine the electoral process. Building a secure environment to allow people to confidently exercise their secret vote and to react quickly to factional fighting in the run up to, during and after the polls, should be the focus of attention for both national and international military forces.

But, above all, preparations for the new representative institutions should be urgently accelerated if they are to have a real voice and not descend into chaos and paralysis. Within Afghanistan a multiplicity of voices needs to be heard in setting future development and other pressing priorities, ending the historic intolerance of political opposition.

The international community too must not regard the polls simply as a convenient exit strategy. These historic polls stand closer to the beginning than the end of Afghanistan's political transition. History has already shown the catastrophic consequences of allowing the Afghan state to wither. As the transitional period comes to an end, the Karzai government and the international community must commit themselves to ensuring that Afghanistan and its citizens can continue to follow the path of a sustainable peace.


To the Karzai Government:

1.  Foster security and voter confidence by:

(a)  taking firm, immediate action against officials involved in intimidation of candidates, electoral workers or voters; this should include the President's Office coordinating relevant ministries and electoral oversight bodies, including the JEMB, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and domestic observers such as the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), to identify offenders who should be dismissed;

(b)  instructing the Ministries of Defence and Interior to aggressively monitor ongoing candidate disarmament, turning over information on non-compliance to the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) through the Joint Secretariat; this should be accompanied by wider efforts at accelerating the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG).

2. Better prepare for the new institutions by:

(a)  instructing the Civil Service Commission to prioritise the training of a strong core of staff and legislative advisers for the National Assembly;

(b)  creating liaison points within all ministries for consultation with the new National and Provincial Assemblies;

(c)  ensuring that the Ministry of Finance builds in budget lines for the National Assembly, Provincial Council and future elections;

(d)  committing sufficient funds for resources and capacity-building to ensure effective participation by women and minority groups; and

(e)  building momentum for the currently undefined Provincial Councils through pre-election public consultations in the centre and regions on devolution, using the results to draft legislation and create extensive briefing papers for the new National Assembly to take the final decision.

3.  Ensure some representation for refugees through presidential appointees to the Meshrano Jirga; this should be preceded by extensive pre-election consultations by the Ministry of Refugees and Returnees.

4.  Continue the vetting process by having new members of the National Assembly and Provincial Councils sign legally binding affidavits before taking their seats, attesting that they had not been involved in any criminal activities, human rights abuses, or the narcotics trade.

5.  Develop the capacity of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and assist it in devising the framework for future elections by:

(a)  instituting a transparent process for the appointment of members to the IEC and Provincial Election Commissions;

(b)  ensuring that core national and regional election staff are retained; and

(c)  actively participating in the Post Election Strategy Group.

To the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) and the Independent Election Commission:

6.  Help build greater public awareness and candidate recognition by extending the formal campaign period through the remaining two months and abolish restrictive campaign rules.

7.  Call an urgent summit on civic education, including regional representatives of the JEMB, NGO partners and donor groups to assess progress and penetration.

8.  Ensure transparency and credibility on polling day by:

(a)  deploying trained polling staff, well in advance;

(b)  widely disseminating information on candidates' party affiliations and candidates who have been disqualified; and

(c)  devising an appropriate system to select small groups of election observers and candidates' agents to accompany ballot boxes to counting centres;

9.  Immediately after the elections build momentum for future polls by:

(a)  publishing a wide-ranging and critical lessons learned report, with particular reference to the performance of the SNTV electoral system;

(b)  preparing for the district elections in consultation with the Ministry of Interior and the Central Statistics Office; and

(c)  institutionalising ongoing civic awareness programs paying particular attention to areas of low female participation.

To the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC):

10.  Create a climate of candidate responsibility by:

(a)  publicising electoral offences and candidate eligibility criteria along with the standard of evidence needed for such complaints to succeed, and issuing regular updates on the status of such complaints;

(b)  disqualifying candidates where necessary.

11.  Ensure adequate resources are in place to enable proper examination of complaints, directly appealing to donors where they are not.                

To the International Community:

12.  Assist the election process and the institutions it will create by:

(a)  immediately filling the funding gap for the National Assembly and Provincial Council elections;

(b)  giving firm commitments to assist with funding elections and the electoral institutions for several more cycles, while setting specific goals for capacity building, local ownership and sustainability;

(c)  committing funds for resources and capacity building of the National and Provincial Assemblies; and

(d)  urging the government to allow foreign funding for political parties and creating, with the IEC, a transparent pool (with strict reporting requirements) to strengthen party activities.

13.  Help foster security and confidence by:

(a)  putting formal and informal pressure on Pakistan to seal its border against militant infiltration; and

(b)  retaining extra election-time troops until at least the end of the year.

Kabul/Brussels, 21 July 2005

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© ICG - This article appeared originally on ICG www.crisisgroup.org and is published by engelund.dk according a general agreement. To view the original article, please click here.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation, with over 110 staff members on five continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.


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Opdateret d. 3.10.2005