Published on 25 Apr 2012 at 09:18
There are complex and varied explanations over the feeble role of political parties on the Afghan political scene. A new Political Parties’ Law introduced by the Ministry of Justice in 2009 was designed to encourage more representative parties. Nonetheless, political analysts and other stakeholders argue that more solutions are needed and that political party development is key to augmenting Afghanistan’s democratic trajectory. They suggest that political party development has been stunted by negative public perceptions, constraints in the electoral system, poor government support, and insecurity, among other factors.
Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001 and approval of the Political Parties’ Law (PPL) in 2003, more than 110 political parties were registered with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Then in 2009, the MoJ approved an entirely new PPL and dissolved all previous political parties, demanding that parties reregister in accordance with the new PPL.
“Since the new PPL was enacted, only 46 out of 110 political parties have been reregistered and the rest of them are preparing necessary documents for registration,” said Mohammad Naser Hafizi, Political Parties and Social Institutions Coordinator at the MoJ.
“In accordance with the new PPL, every political party should present copies of at least 10,000 national ID cards [of members] from all ethnic groups across the country for the registration. It should have at least 22 founders, each from a different province,” as he explains the new changes in the PPL.
“Based on the previous law, anyone could establish a political party after presenting 700 national ID cards with no consideration to balanced regional or ethnic representation,” he says.
Political parties have been established from all ends of the political spectrum in Afghanistan. They have been formed by mujahidin leaders, members of the former Communist Party and some independent figures; each with different ideas, thoughts and opinions. Analysts believe that there are simply too many parties and the increasing number of political parties has diminished their role in the country’s political processes. It has caused a “flock of parties”.
Some political parties divided into smaller parties with similar thoughts and ideas, but with only slight changes to their names.
Some political parties divided into smaller parties with similar thoughts and ideas, but with only slight changes to their names. For instance, the former mujahidin party called Hezb-e-Wahdat Islami (Wahdat Islamic Party) is now split among four smaller parties.
Another famous party of the mujahidin, Jamiat-e-Islami, spilt into different factions. Although some of the smaller parties born out of the Jamiat-e-Islami have not yet registered with the MoJ, two have: the Hezb-e Nahzat Milli Afghanistan formed by Ahmad Wali Masoud, and the Hezb-e-Afghanistan Nawin (The New Afghanistan), chaired by Mohammad Yunas Qanooni, a prominent member of the Jamiat Party and member of the National Assembly.
Some prominent figures of the former communist party (Hezb-e-Democratic Khalq Afghanistan) have established political parties. Noor-ul Haq Uloomi, founded Hezb-e-Motahed Milli (National Union Party) and Mohammad Asef Baktash formed Hezb-e-Taraqi Watan (Homeland Development Party).
“In any post-conflict country, there are a huge number of political parties and this is natural” said Hafizi. “Different ideas for building the government and political entities result in the creation of many political parties in Afghanistan. The government treats all parties equally and there is no discrimination against any political party. It is a time-consuming endeavor for political parties with similar platforms and bylaws to join together and establish a stronger party.”
Although Afghanistan’s current electoral system – the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) system – is not based on political party participation, the majority of the leaders and well known members of political parties have participated in the country’s elections. The majority of them have been elected to the National Assembly and provincial councils, and others have been appointed to government positions.
If government leaders are also political party members, why are political parties excluded from the political scene?
Political analysts claim that there are a number of contributing factors as to why political parties have no discernible role in Afghan politics: strong negative associations with past political party activity, insecurity, social resistance to new socio-political practices, weakness of civil society, and no party-based elections. It is further argued that the government’s current structure is not political party friendly and, thus, there are few opportunities for political parties to share in governance.
It is further argued that the government’s current structure is not political party friendly and, thus, there are few opportunities for political parties to share in governance.
“One of the reasons for the weakness of parties in Afghanistan’s politics is the closed and traditional structure of society, which is based on ethnic and language distinctions,” said Dr. Akram Arifi, politics and law lecturer at Kateb Institute of Higher Education in Kabul. “It is very difficult for an ethnic and language based party to cross such barriers to develop countrywide. Furthermore, the prolonged disaster caused by political factions (communists and mujahidin) over the past three decades in Afghanistan has made people unwilling to trust political parties.”
“It is people that make a political party strong in any country,” he added. “A party’s structure itself does nothing if people do not join the party.”
Faizullah Jalal, a politics and law lecturer at Kabul University, believes that the Afghan government is structured around coalitions of influential individuals, not around coalitions of political parties. Political parties have been isolated over the past decade, consequently with little chance to improve.
“The Afghan government was established based on a coalition of armed and undemocratic groups, including former warlords and pro-Taliban individuals,” said Jalal. “These groups are trying to prevent the establishment of strong and countrywide parties in order to save their own interests.”
“Those members of the political parties engaged in the government are there because of their power and reputation in society. They do not represent political parties,” said Dr. Abass Baseer, head of the political office at the Hebz-e-Wahdat Islami, which is chaired by Mohammad Karim Khalili, the second vice president. “Individuals rather than political parties play key roles in the country’s decision making process.”
According to Mohammad Asef Baktash, the leader of Hezb-e-Taraqi Watan, insecurity is the main challenge to advancing the role of political parties, which explains why ordinary citizens are unable to join these parties.
“Different reasons have weakened the role of political parties in the country’s politics after the fall of the Taliban,” he said. “In addition to the different political reasons and some social factors (including people’s unawareness about politics and lack of cultural development), insecurity and insurgency play a role in this regard.”
Abass Noyan, a member of the newly established Right and Justice Political Party, believes that poor internal structuring and personality driven politics within parties have weakened their role in the country’s politics over the past ten years.
“We see that no party is established based on democratic principles and no party works for national interests,” he said. “The parties that remain in or even out of power are seeking to ensure the interests of a small group, not the entire nation.”
Dr. Baseer argues that the country’s approach to political party development has been lacking in vision and plagued by negative perceptions. “Even though we have the PPL, the government did nothing to open avenues for political party development; instead it created a negative impression about political parties in the country,” he said.
Dr Baser: “Even though we have the PPL, the government did nothing to open avenues for political party development; instead it created a negative impression about political parties in the country.”
Dr. Baseer further points out that there are limited formal channels for political party participation in the country’s political process. “The role of parties in elections is determined in every democratic society, but no role is given to political parties in Afghanistan’s electoral system. The government should develop a specific plan for political party development to enhance political processes, institutionalize democracy and create stronger political parties in the future in Afghanistan.”
Despite challenges, political party members and founders remain involved at all levels
Although political parties have yet to cement a visible role, many parties’ members, nonetheless, are represented at all levels of Afghan politics. For instance, President Karzai was a member of a mujahidin party, the Jabha-e-Nejad Milli; Qasim Fahim, the first vice president, is a prominent member of Jamiat-e-Islami; and Karim Khalili, the second vice president, is now chairing Hezb-e-Wahdat Islami.
Some party leaders are also cabinet ministers. Anwarul Haq Ahadi, leader of Afghan Melat party, is the Minister of Commerce and Industries; Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, leader of a faction within the Hezb-e-Islami, is the Minister of Economy; and Mohammad Ismail Khan, a prominent commander of Jamiat-e-Islami party, is the Minister of Energy and Water.
Political party members are represented in the National Assembly. Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq, leader of Hezb-e-Wahdat Islami Murdam Afghanistan, is representing Kabul Province; Ustad Sayaff, leader of Hezb-e-Dawat Islami, was elected from Kabul Province into the Wolesi Jirga; Saead Ishaq Gelaini, leader of Nazt-e-Hambastagi represents Paktia Province; and Abdul Latif Pedram, leader of Congera-e-Milli, represents Badkhashan Province in the National Assembly.
In addition, a remarkable number of political party leaders and prominent members are involved in various government institutions.
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