Published on 03 Aug 2010 at 03:30
Sahil K. Warsi, July 1, 2010 Serena Hotel, Kabul, Afghanistan
On July 1st, IFES held the first IFES one-day Preventing Electoral Abuses Conference (PEACE 1) in Kabul, bringing together members of Afghan civil society, media, parliament, ministries, and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).
Participants presented on a number of issues relating to money and politics in the 2010 Wolesi Jirga elections and highlighted several issues requiring further attention of the various stakeholders. Through the pursuant discussion and debate, participants recognized, albeit from different perspectives, that (i) the issue of money in politics in Afghanistan is a timely issue meriting serious discussion, (ii) that many stakeholders have important roles to play in enhancing transparency in political finance, (iii) that the role of political parties is particularly important and should be strengthened, and (iv) that while it will take a long time to achieve transparency in Afghan political finance, concerted efforts towards that goals must start without delay.
After a short introduction and welcome by IFES-CEPPS Project Director, Mr. Peter Noppenau, IFES Senior Political Finance Advisor, Dr. Magnus Ohman spoke to participants on the role of money in politics, the main issues of political finance faced in various countries, and common regulations adopted across the globe to address political finance issues. Ohman also articulated key global understandings on money in politics, emphasizing the dual need for good regulation as well as real enforcement as well as the active involvement of different stakeholders.
Following this introduction, Dr. Shafi Jalali, Head of the IEC Public Outreach Department, presented on his findings as a participant of a recent IFES political finance study tour to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The study tour brought together 10 Afghan representatives of the political establishment, media, civil society, and government with their BiH counterparts. Comparing the electoral system in the two countries, Jalali indicated how within a short period after the war Bosnia has developed a strong political party system, where parties receive government funding, and a Central Election Commission (CEC) based on the ethnic breakdown of the country and appointed by the Supreme Court and Parliament. When asked about the differences between the Bosnian CEC and the IEC, Jalali mentioned that complaints against the CEC are dealt with by the Supreme Court and that the CEC also has an extremely thorough mechanism for tracking and verifying candidate finances, which cannot yet be implemented in Afghanistan given the current constraints of the Afghan banking system.
Next, Mr. Khalid Orya, Head of the IEC Legal Department, discussed the legal framework for campaign finance in the upcoming elections. Orya indicated that prior to the campaign period candidates were required to report on their moveable and immovable assets as part of the candidate nomination process. He explained that during the campaign period candidates are required to track on their campaign contributions and expenditure. Detailing the new electoral campaign regulations, Orya explained that candidates would not have recourse to public resources unless such resources were authorized for equal enjoyment by all candidates; however, candidates could receive contributions of up to AFN 50,000 from Afghan natural persons and AFN 500,000 from Afghan legal persons. In closing, Orya mentioned that candidates would be required to submit final financial reports 48 hours before Election day and that these results would be published at the same time as the preliminary election results. Many of these points were echoed in the presentation by the Ministry of Justice representative Mr. Abdulmajid Ghanizada, which followed Orya’s presentation, albeit from the political party perspective.
Ahmad Zia Raffat, ECC Commissioner and Spokesperson, presented at length on various forms of electoral abuses that had been identified by the ECC. Raffat reminded participants of the difference between objections and complaints, indicating that former dealt with codes and procedures, whereas complaints pertained specifically to violations of the law. Responding to questions on the illegality of candidates alleged to have contacts with armed groups, Raffat stated that the IEC had created a committee charged with oversight of the investigation of candidates’ connections to illegal armed groups, comprised of representatives from the IEC, the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, Deparment of State Security. Raffat stated that the ECC could not disqualify a candidate on grounds of connection to illegal armed groups unless determined by this committee.
The final presentation was made by the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) Project Manager, Naeem Asghari, and Project Adviser, Nassir Anwari, on the current FEFA Campaign Finance pilot project funded through IFES. Under the project, FEFA is monitoring candidate compliance with campaign finance regulations and abuse of state resources in the 16 Kabul city districts and 4 Bagrami districts. The main goals of the project are to provide recommendations for changes to the legal framework for campaign finance, suggestions for future monitoring, and to raise general awareness of campaign finance issues in Afghanistan. In response to why FEFA was not reporting discovered violations to the IEC, Asghari explained that to report infractions to the IEC would compromise the monitoring and the pilot project aims. Ultimately the project will serve to clarify the situation to prevent future violations of regulations.
Following the presentations, the participants engaged in discussion on several issues relating to political finance in the Afghan context. The following is a summary of the main issues discussed
Challenges in the Field of Campaign Finance in Afghanistan
Participants outlined several challenges including: vote-buying, extreme disparity in candidates’ financial resources, candidate abuse of state resources, foreign political and financial influence, lack of transparency, and a culture of breaking the law. To address these challenges, participants suggested citizens’ awareness on campaign finance issues should to be raised, the cost of campaigning should be lowered and limited, steps should be taken to address the current culture of impunity, a mechanism for monitoring of campaign finance should be developed with an active role for civil society, the process of dealing with electoral abuses should be made more transparent, and a system for monitoring bank accounts of candidates should be developed.
State Funding for Political Candidates and Parties
There was general agreement among participants that some form of state funding for candidates should be developed. It was recognized that there were advantages to state funding such as a leveling of the playing field for candidates. However, challenges were also acknowledged. These include: whether to provide funding for independent candidates, whether to demand refunds from parties who received funding but did not win seats, the risk for an increase in number of candidates as a means to get state funds, and ensuring that state funding does not increase the disparity between financially stronger and weaker candidates or parties. Participants determined that if state funding were to be provided, there would need to be a clear regulatory framework, a method to level the playing field, a raising of standards for party registration and candidate nomination, and the development of a transparent system for tracking campaign finances.
Monitoring Transparency of Campaign Finance
Aside from the roles of the IEC and ECC, participants discussed what other stakeholders in the electoral process could contribute to effective monitoring of campaign expenditure. While discussion was not conclusive, it was agreed that international organizations such as the UN or Interpol, national and international media, civil society groups, political parties and independent candidates, and finally the everyday Afghan citizen all have various roles in which they can contribute to the monitoring of campaign finance.
Long-term Changes Regarding Political Finance in Afghanistan
Looking to the future, participants agreed that much could be gleaned from the global discussion on political finance to address issues in Afghanistan. In particular, participants felt that over the long term, limits would have to be placed on campaign spending and concomitantly an advanced system for tracking candidate or party income and expenditure would need to be developed. Participants also agreed on the need to develop a prevention-oriented system of penalizing electoral abuses. Underlying these discussions was the question of the role of private and state banks might or could play in assisting the state in political finance oversight.
The PEACE 1 conference was held at an opportune moment, near the commencement of the election campaign period, to heighten stakeholder awareness of issues of campaign finance and electoral abuse. Through the presentations and discussions, participants were informed on the current political finance framework in Afghanistan, and were able to identify several problematic areas and suggest possible solutions. It was agreed that a second PEACE conference would be held following the election period to evaluate the 2010 elections in light the issues identified in PEACE 1, and to provide recommendations for future action and reform.
July 15th, 2010
Sahil K. Warsi
Project Coordinator, IFES-CEPPS
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