Published on 28 Nov 2010 at 12:30
By Adam C. LeClair
On November 1st, 2010 IFES hosted the second one-day Preventing Electoral Abuse Conference (PEACE II) in Kabul, bringing together members from Afghan civil society, media, ministries, Parliament, election candidates, the Independent Elections Commission (IEC), and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).
PEACE II was designed as the follow-on to PEACE I, held prior to elections on July 1st. Both PEACE I and II provided an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss the myriad of issues related to campaign finance regulation, electoral abuse, and political finance transparency in Afghanistan. While PEACE I focused on problems in anticipation of the then upcoming elections, PEACE II evaluated what happened and provided a forum to discuss people’s common goals and disparate experiences related to political finance during the 2010 Wolesi Jirga election. PEACE II also sought to engender further debate on campaign finance and cement cogent recommendations for political finance reform in Afghanistan beyond the elections.
PEACE II included key presentations on the 2010 election from IFES’s Senior Political Finance Advisor, the IEC, the ECC, and the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA). Follow-up discussions with presenters and all participants centered around (1) lessons learned from the 2010 Wolesi Jirga elections and what reforms are necessary for upcoming elections, and (2) political finance in Afghanistan beyond the election and the role of international assistance.
PEACE II commenced with opening remarks by IFES-CEPPS Director, Peter Noppenau, who explained PEACE II objectives and introduced the day’s presenters. Following this introduction, IFES Senior Political Finance Advisor, Dr. Magnus Ohman presented on, “Controlling Money in Politics, Elections and Beyond.” Ohman remarked that PEACE II is an opportunity to look at what happened in the 2010 election, how we can employ lessons learned, and what are the next steps in this post-election period? Ohman further commented that the 2010 election was the fourth election in Afghanistan, allowing us to ask the question, “has there been progress?” In relation to the 2010 election, the IEC had so far published over 1,700 financial reports submitted by candidates, the ECC had issued 80 fines so far related to campaign finance, and FEFA observed many electoral abuses through its monitoring activities. Candidates’ campaign finance reports submitted to the IEC demonstrate a significant level of campaign expenses, as candidates in Kabul spent on average 1,060,000 Afghanis (USD 23,4560), of which 770,000 (USD 17,039) came from their own pockets. These figures affirm campaign finance as a salient issue, forcing us to consider what electoral reforms may be necessary. Taking all of this into consideration, Ohman asked participants to consider what worked well and what can be improved. He further noted campaign finance should not end when the election ends, as there is an acute imperative for stakeholders to continue with the cycle of political finance oversight and control.
Head of the Legal Department at the IEC, Mr. Khalid Orya presented on the IEC’s rules and regulations as well as the process for reporting results and finalizing lists of candidates. Orya explained that each Provincial Electoral Complaints Commission (PECC) reviews finance reporting forms and has the authority to make initial decisions on electoral abuses. The IEC compiles all of this information into a database and has released the reports online. This also allows anyone to identify which candidates did not submit financial reports and evaluate which candidate spent a lot of their own money. The IEC was 79 percent successful in the 2010 election in collecting reports. Orya added that candidates received training on IEC reports, but candidates encountered various problems with the reporting requirements.
Training Director at the ECC, Mr. Aleem Danish presented an overview of financial reporting requirements of candidates, the process for adjudicating complaints and challenges, and the various conditions for disqualifying candidates. The ECC adjudicates based on three categories of complaints: A cases, which affect the results of the elections and disqualify candidates; B cases, which do not affect the results of the elections but may result in fines or other violations; and C cases, which are nonessential or late complaints. Currently, the ECC is finalizing the adjudication of category A complaints as these determine the results of the election. The ECC will complete the adjudication of category B and C complaints after release of the results. Danish summarized a number of candidate violations identified through ECC’s complaint process: 58 candidates were disqualified for not resigning from their government posts; 36 candidates were vetted for membership with illegally armed groups or non-military forces; 1 candidate nominated a different person instead of himself; the votes of 24 candidates were invalidated for fake votes; 194 candidates were fined for placement of campaign advertising in illegal locations; and 871 candidates did not submit financial reports or reported receiving campaign contributions in excess of the approved amount.
FEFA’s Election Monitoring Program Manager, Mr. Nassir Anwari presented on FEFA’s campaign finance monitoring project, which sought to monitor and document abuses of state resources in the election, candidates’ compliance with IEC regulations and vote buying. This pilot project also monitored the campaign expenditures of 22 candidates in Kabul during the 2010 elections. FEFA’s methodology monitored campaign finance compliance in three phases: pre-campaign period, campaign period, and election day. Anwari presented a number of the project’s findings, including underreporting to the IEC at 62 percent – meaning more than half of the monitored candidates reported lower campaign expenditures to the IEC than the amounts monitored through FEFA. For example, the maximum amount reported to the IEC was 7.3M Afghanis (USD 161,540), whereas the maximum amount monitored by FEFA was 11.3M Afghanis (USD 250,055). FEFA also noted that its election monitors reported 48 cases of campaigning before the start of the official campaign period. Throughout the project, monitors reported other violations such as illegal vote buying, use of government venues in campaigning, and a lack of awareness among the candidates about the campaign finance regulations.
Following the presentation, PEACE II participants divided into groups to discuss lessons learned from the 2010 Wolesi Jirga elections, potential political reform, political finance in Afghanistan beyond the elections, and the role of international assistance.
Lessons Learned from the 2010 Wolesi Jirga Elections & Necessary Reform
Through these discussions participants outlined several challenges and lessons gained from the 2010 election, including difficulties in monitoring candidate campaign expenses, limited regulating capacity of the IEC, and gaps in the electoral law. Specifically, participant groups were asked to discuss limitations on campaign spending, provision of public support to election campaigns, changes to current sanctions against campaign violations, and what reforms may be necessary to improve political finance regulations in Afghanistan.
Participants first debated the need to reduce limitations on candidate campaign spending. Although there was no absolute consensus on the issue, participants agreed reducing limitations on campaign spending in Afghanistan may currently be too difficult, given the IEC and ECC’s limited capacity to monitor and to enforce spending limits. However, there should be continued efforts to increase the current capacity of the IEC to control and monitor expenses and to enforce sanctions. For example, to better mitigate inaccurate and fraudulent candidate financial reporting, participants recommended that all reports to the IEC should include supporting documentation (such as bank accounts or company receipts). Some participants expanded on this point and recommended requiring all candidates to open a single bank account for the sole purpose of monitoring campaign spending. Bank balances and receipts would then be furnished with financial reporting to the IEC. However, others noted that this would be another difficult regulation to enforce given the current constraints of banking institutions.
To better ensure overall compliance, participants suggested Afghanistan’s electoral law as well as IEC and ECC internal regulations should be revised to strengthen sanctions in response to campaign violations. This should involve increased fines or revocation of candidacy to better deter infractions of finance regulations. Further, information on campaign spending should be made available publicly to voters (someplace more accessible than IEC’s website) throughout the campaign period to elevate the issue among voters and increase accountability of candidates. However, several participants noted that in many locations, providing expense information publicly could compromise the security of some candidates.
Participants further debated if public support (direct or indirect) should be provided to candidates in the election. Participants agreed that easing the financial burden of candidates could benefit the electoral process, so as to not skew representation towards only the best funded candidates. For example, allow tax deductions on candidate’s eligible campaign expenses, provide some equal level of funding to all candidates to print posters and other promotional materials, or provide free access to public campaigning venues or government media outlets. This would ensure some level of equal access of resources to all candidates. However, there was no consensus on how to better legislate the direct or indirect public funding of candidates.
Several participants asserted the need to include gender considerations in campaign finance reform, such as increasing accessibility of government media and public campaigning locations for women candidates. They further recommended to incentive women’s candidacy through reduced registration fees and taxes imposed on campaign expenses. Such gender considerations recognize the constraints of women candidates to finance their campaigns under current regulations.
Discussions addressed existing gaps in Afghanistan’s electoral law, which contains very little information about campaign finance. As such, it was recommended that Afghan electoral law be expanded to reinforce the IEC’s internal regulations on campaign finance. IEC’s legal framework could be strengthened if the electoral law contained more specific language on campaign finance.
Political Finance in Afghanistan beyond Elections & Role of International Assistance
Dr. Ohman initiated discussions on political finance beyond the elections by explaining that continuous political finance oversight is necessary for all areas of effective governance, democratic development, and anti-corruption. Ohman cited potential formal reforms such as continuous oversight of politicians, assets declaration, and public procurement. There is the additional role that political parties play between elections, and whether or not they should receive financial support. In Afghanistan, key actors in this process should include the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice, media, and members of civil society. Ohman asked groups to also consider the role of international assistance in building political finance transparency and what organizations like IFES should do to help out.
There was consensus that political finance control and monitoring beyond the elections is critically important to increasing overall political finance transparency and to ensure the success of upcoming elections. Conversations focused on the need to continue building the capacity of the governing bodies involved in campaign and political finance. This would include the enhanced capacity of watchdog organizations which have a stake in the political finance oversight of government. Several participants cited the need to establish a separate government agency whose sole mandate is to monitor and regulate finance of Parliament and government offices. Participants agreed that continued international assistance is needed to build the technical and organizational capacity of all stakeholder organizations, particularly with creating more effective and transparent monitoring mechanisms.
Participants noted that political finance reform beyond the election period must not only address electoral abuse and fraud, but also recognize the general lack of understanding among both voters and candidates. As such, efforts should focus on public awareness encouraging people to support political finance monitoring and control, which would embed political finance as a voter issue in upcoming elections. Similarly, awareness efforts should elevate candidates’ understanding of the rules, the processes for reporting, and what the potential sanctions are. This would help to mitigate violations.
Participants concluded by highlighting the role of international assistance to political finance transparency and what groups such as IFES can do to help out. There was agreement that continued support from the international community is needed, particularly with capacity building and public awareness activities. Many participants expressed interest in the electoral experiences of other countries, to examine what has worked well and what has not in different contexts. This was especially acute during discussions on political parties, as participants wanted to learn about the role and level of financial support provided to political parties in other countries.
Key Recommendations and Next Steps
PEACE II was held at critical point, shortly after the 2010 election when stakeholders were best positioned to evaluate their recent election experiences. Further, the conference was designed out of recognition that political finance is a central component to electoral reform and to supporting the nascent electoral infrastructure in Afghanistan. The importance of these discussions became increasingly clear as participants outlined their concerns and cited difficulties from the recent election. For example, Orya of the IEC explained the vast majority of candidate (871) infractions were related to insufficient or no financial reporting and excess campaign contributions. FEFA reported that, on average, the candidates it monitored spent an average of 3,281,752 Afghanis (USD 72,621), while the average amount reported to the IEC was only 1,567,927 Afghanis (USD 34,696). Given the input provided here and burgeoning issue of money in politics, political finance is clearly an important issue in the electoral process and beyond.
The information and discourse gained at PEACE II allows stakeholders and international assistance organizations such as IFES to assess the real areas of weakness and need for reform. PEACE II discussions highlighted many important considerations:
- Continue capacity building with the IEC, the ECC, and other stakeholder organizations. Specifically, enhance the campaign finance monitoring efforts of the IEC and streamline the process.
- Create a uniform understanding among voters on political finance and how governing bodies such as the IEC and ECC operate and institutionalize reforms. Increase public awareness on these issues.
- Enhance candidate compliance through increased understanding of regulations. Revise and strengthen sanctions to better deter campaign violations.
- Establish a governmental Public Finance Regulator or some other mechanism for continued political finance monitoring and control beyond the elections.
- Explore and learn from international electoral experiences, specifically on finance monitoring systems and the role of political parties.
- Revise electoral law where areas of campaign finance are weak, unclear, or inconsistent with IEC and ECC regulations.
A main takeaway from PEACE II is the limited capacity of stakeholders and governing bodies, contrasted against the need to implement reforms. Participants identified a growing disparity between the need to elevate reform and the government’s capacity constraints to enforce that reform. As such, any next steps should support the emerging capacity of governing bodies to monitor and enforce new reforms. It also is critical that this discourse is continued with all Afghan stakeholders, to avoid prescriptive interventions on the part of international organizations.
It is now important to think critically about the lessons learned and recommendations gained from PEACE II. IFES remains committed to supporting increased transparency in Afghan political finance, in the election and moving forward beyond the elections. IFES will build on the recommendations garnered during the conference and will continue to engage with the participants and other relevant stakeholders.
Document dated November 22nd, 2010
Adam C. LeClair
Civil Society Project Coordinator, IFES-CEPPS
Pictures and the PowerPoint Presentations from PEACE II are available electronically on the “Political Finance” page of http://www.afghanistanvotes.com
Attachment 1 - Participants List
Attachment 2 - Political Finance Glossary
Attachment 1: Participants List
No Organization Staff Names/Attendees
Civil Society Organizations
1 Civil Society Development Center (CSDC), Mohd Mohammad Arif, Hamida
2 World Women Development of Afghanistan (WWDOA), Suraya Bahradbadi
3 Asia Foundation, Hasibullah Shinwary
4 Open Society Institute, Abdul Hai Rauf, Nilofar Sakhi
5 Afghan Civil Society Forum (ACSF), Parto Naderi, Sharif Sharafat
6 Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Safiullah Elham, Hussain Moin
7 All Afghan Women Union, Suraya Parlika
8 Afghan Civil Society Human Rights Network (CSHRN), Naeem Nazari
9 Training Human Rights Association, Roshan Sirran, Suraya Elyas, Sona Musleh
10 Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), Naeem Asghari, Maryam, Nasir Anwari, Suhila Yousifzai, Shahmahmood
11 Misc. Civil Society, Hekmattullah Foushanji
1 Independent Election Commission (IEC), Bashir Farooq, Shafi Jalali, Dr. Shahla Haq, Mohammad Khalid Orya
2 Electoral Complains Commission (ECC), Bashir, Khalid, Sultan, Aleem Danish
3 Justice Ministry, Rahimullah Hidayat, Sohila AlfeNoor, Abdul Majeed Ghanizada
4 Members of Parliament, Khalid Pashtoon, Shinkai Karokhil
1 8 Sub Daily, Sha Hussain Mortazawi
2 NAI, Tawhidi
3 Tolo TV, Abdullah
International (non-participating attendees)
1 USAID, Adam Schmidt, Idiris Ilham
2 IFES, Peter Noppenau, Magnus Ohman, Mindy Roduner, Adam LeClair
Attachment 2: Political Finance Glossary
An audit is an examination of an entity’s financial statements, financial records and banking information prepared by the entity’s financial agents for other interested parties outside the entity, and of the evidence supporting the information contained in those financial statements.
Expenditures incurred by or on behalf of a registered political party or candidate to promote the party or candidate during an election cycle or in connection with future elections, including expenditure that has the aim of damaging the prospects of another party or candidate.
Refers to transactions that are related to an electoral campaign. Transactions may include formal, financial, or in-kind donations or expenditures.
Income raised by or on behalf of a registered political party or candidate to finance the election campaign of a party or candidate.
Campaign Spending Limit
A maximum amount that a candidate's campaign can spend during the election period.
Candidate Spending Limit
A maximum amount that a candidate can give or loan to his or her own campaign.
An upper limit on campaign expenditures. Sometimes also refers to the upper limit on what individuals and political parties can contribute.
Conflict of Interest
The situation where a person has incompatible interests which hinder her or him from acting for the common good. For example when government officials take campaign contributions from people whose economic interests are affected by government policy-making.
A maximum amount of money that an individual or political party may contribute to a candidate's campaign or to a political party.
Money, or anything else of value (such as mailing lists, telephones, billboard space) given to a candidate's campaign or political party by an individual or organization.
Direct Public Funding
Money provided to political parties or candidates by the government during election campaigns or for regular party financing – usually as bank transfers, but sometimes as hard cash or checks.
The requirement that candidates and political parties report the amounts and sources of their campaign contributions to the electoral management body, government auditing agency or electoral enforcement agency. Effective disclosure works when these accounts are detailed and made available for public scrutiny.
A contribution of goods, services, or property offered free or at less than the usual charge.
Indirect Public Funding
Resources with a monetary value that are provided to political parties or candidates by the government for the election campaign or for regular party financing, such as transport or free media time.
Level Playing Field
An electoral contest in which competing candidates have equal resources with which to conduct their campaigns.
Misuse of Administrative Resources
The use of state and public sector powers and resources (including coercive capacities, personnel, financial, material, and other resources) by incumbent politicians or political parties to further their own prospects of election, in violation of legal and/or other norms and responsibilities governing the exercise of public office.
Candidates and political parties’ income and expenditures, which are formal and informal, as well as financial and in-kind. These transactions may occur within or outside of the campaign period, or they may not be directly related to a campaign at all.
Political Finance Regulator (also Enforcement Body or Enforcement Agency)
A government body or agency mandated to oversee and control the flow of the country’s political finance system. It ensures that parties, committees and candidates comply with the limitations, prohibitions and disclosure and reporting requirements. The agency has the duty to enforce obligations arising out of political finance regulations.
Campaign funding or regular party funding supplied by the government to eligible candidates or political parties.
Attempting to directly or indirectly influence voters by providing money or other benefits to constituents in exchange for their vote.
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