Published on 30 May 2012 at 10:10
Civil society organizations and legal institutions argue that amendments to the Election Law are an important first step, but not enough. They insist that the new draft law still contains gaps which must be addressed to truly ensure transparency in Afghanistan’s elections.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has brought extensive amendments to the Election Law. These amendments include: allocation of one-third of the seats in the Afghan National Assembly to political parties; redefining electoral terms such as candidate, abuse, violation, protest, etc; establishing more minimum requirements for candidate nominations; determining the IEC’s duties and responsibilities; clarifying working procedures for the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and Media Commission; and determining sanctions for election violations.
The IEC announced that it handed over its new draft law to civil society organizations, political parties and the public to have their view point included in the reform process. The new draft law will next be sent to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for review.
Ali Karim: “Previous elections showed that democracy and peace are impossible without transparency in the election process."
Allocation of one-third of the seats in the National Assembly to political parties is arguably the most dramatic change put forth in the draft law. The amendments also call for 10 out of 249 seats in the National Assembly to be allocated for Kochis (nomads) and the remaining seats distributed among all the provinces based on their respective provincial populations. Out of these 239 seats, one-third are allotted for political parties and the remaining two-thirds for independent candidates. In the event there is a fraction of a seat, then, on average the seat will be assigned to an independent candidate.
Based on article 22 of the draft law, the seat allocations for political parties are calculated based on the population of each province and weighed proportionally against the population of Afghanistan as a whole. The draft law breaks it down like this:
A. Allocated seats for political parties, considering the population of each province shall be divided in the following order:
1. The population of the provinces shall be divided by the allocated seats for political parties to determine the population quota for each political party seat.
2. The population of each province shall be divided by the seat quota for each political party seat to determine the number of political party seats for each province.
3. Each province shall be allocated a number of seats equal to the total number from the division under Section A(2) of this Article.
4. The seats that are not allocated under Section A(3) of this Article shall be allocated in the descending order of the remaining decimal fraction of the division stipulated in Section A(2)of this Article.
5. If less than one seat is allocated for one or more provinces as result of this calculation, then one seat shall be allocated for that province.
Based on the recommended changes, voters would receive two ballot papers in the polling stations: a ballot paper for political parties and a ballot paper for independent candidates. The IEC also suggested that descriptions of the political parties shall be provided on the ballot papers, but not descriptions of their candidates. Thus, Afghanistan’s electoral system will be transitioned from the current Single Nontransferable Vote (SNTV) system to a ‘parallel system’.
The IEC believes that these changes will bring more transparency in future elections and will mitigate fraud and electoral abuse. On the other hand, though civil society organizations and legal institutions welcome this initiative, they claim these changes are ‘slight’ and ‘insufficient’.
Referring to the IEC’s role in the ESC, Spingar says: “It will create problems when both the implementer and the monitor of the election process is the same body."
“The amendments to the Election Law are a good step, but the draft law still has some deficiencies, both in its shape and content and this needs to be resolved,” said Jandad Spingar, Executive Director of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA). “The IEC first should have amended and finalized its structure, duties and responsibility law. The IEC should have first become a capable, professional and independent commission to gain people’s trust.”
Ali Karimi, Communication Manager at the Electoral Support Organization of Afghanistan argues that his office welcomes any effective reforms to ensure more transparency in the elections. “Previous elections showed that democracy and peace are impossible without transparency in the election process,” he said. “The IEC should be opened up to the public and useful and constructive reforms to the law should be confirmed by people.”
Spingar argues that the mechanism considered for the ECC is not transparent. Based on the new draft law, members of the ECC (which is renamed the Electoral Supervision Commission or ESC in the draft law) would include: deputy head of Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution (ICOIC), deputy head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), elected representative from civil society, an Afghan representative of the UN, and head or deputy head of the IEC, who will chair the body. “It will create problems when both the implementer and the monitor of the election process is the same body,” Spingar said, referring to the IEC’s role in the ESC.
Karimi: “It is impossible to ensure democracy without the presence of strong political parties."
Karimi believes that one-third allocation of the National Assembly seats for political parties is an important step. “It is impossible to ensure democracy without the presence of strong political parties,” he said. “Political parties were isolated during the previous elections and this affected political stability of the country. It is good that political parties are given the right to participate in elections; but, the IEC should ask political parties whether they agree with such an allocation of seats.”
FEFA also supports a party-based system. “We support a system in which political parties and independent individuals are able to compete. But, allocation of one-third of the seats to political parties is not enough and this will create problems in determining electoral constituencies,” said Spingar.
According to Spingar, the new draft law still needs to address certain criteria, such as education requirements for National Assembly candidates and mechanisms for monitoring candidates’ campaign finance.
Karimi states that the IEC should give more time to review the draft law’s amendments. “The amendments to the Election Law are a good step, but Afghan civil society, political parties and lawmakers should be given enough time to review this draft law and present their view points to the IEC.”
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