Political Landscape

A Hasty Process: New Independent Election Commission announced


The IEC stands. Yesterday, 29 July, President Karzai announced his choice of nine out of a list of 27 nominees. Photo: Daily Outlook Afghanistan

While the passing of the election-related laws took months, the selection and appointment of the crucial new Independent Election Commission (IEC) was finished within days. Although time was pressing, the haste raises doubts about the thoroughness of the process and the balance of the new nine-member body announced on Monday, 29 July 2013. AAN’s analysts Gran Hewad, Martine van Bijlert and Thomas Ruttig take a closer look and come to the conclusion that although the new IEC has the necessary varnish of professionalism, its individual members were chosen the old way: through powerful networks.

After months of bickering over the electoral legislation and the appointment of a new Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the organisation responsible for organising Afghanistan’s elections, everything suddenly moved very fast. The electoral legislation was finalised on 20 July 2013. The newly mandated Selection Committee for the IEC met on the next day, elected its chairperson – despite still being incomplete – and announced a four day period for people to hand in their applications for the nine IEC positions. Exactly a week later, on 28 July 2013, President Hamed Karzai was provided with the required shortlist of 27 nominees. Only a day later, he announced his final choice. That is unusually fast.

Early reports of how the commissioners were selected indicate flaws in the process that call into question the future independence of the IEC. Where the Selection Committee was supposed to have presided over an open application procedure based on merit, it seems to have rather been a pragmatic patching together of lists provided by powerful people, while trying to balance the political affiliations, geographic backgrounds, ethnic groups and personal relations of the candidates.

The new IEC commissioners

Two of the newly appointed commissioners have been IEC commissioners before – Gurziwani and Hamed (see short background below). Two others – Barmak and Ahrari – worked for the IEC in other positions and have practical experience with organising elections, too. This gives the commission a varnish of professionalism without which its legitimacy could be questioned. Hamed and another member – Nuristani – have been (deputy) ministers. They are the highest-ranking among the nine and therefore probably the favourites for the IEC chairmanship.

The personal and political links of most of the nine commissioners, however, indicate that their appointment is the result of a compilation of favourites of the Selection Committee members, most of whom themselves belong to networks close to the palace. This also includes the two commission members with civil society background. The political opposition is not represented in the Selection Committee and its representatives have, unsurprisingly, been critical. Sayed Fazel Agha Sancharaki, the spokesperson of the National Coalition of Afghanistan, told ToloNews, “we welcome the decision that was made based on the law, however, it was tainted by the absence of a civil society representative in the selection committee and the nepotism in the process.”

The nine new IEC commissioners are:

Mohammad Hossain Gurziwani is an Uzbek from Faryab province who was a geography lecturer at Kabul University and then headed the Wolesi Jirga secretariat, until he was appointed as IEC commissioner in 2008. As a commissioner he was perceived as quiet and unremarkable but he knows the basics of organising an election which made him an obvious choice. He had apparently applied for the job himself. Although there were other Uzbeks on the list who had the support of the influential speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, Gurziwani as sitting commissioner had an advantage over them;
Sarir Ahmad Barmak is the brother of the Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Wais Barmak. He is a Tajik from Panjshir. He used to work as an advisor to the chairman of the IEC and later joined UNDP. He has a Masters in governance and international development and a background in human rights. He is seen as being First Vice President Marshal Qasim Fahim’s pick;
Laila Ahrari is a Tajik from Herat where she is head of the IEC Public Awareness Department. She has a Masters degree and hails from a Jamiati family that has a rivalry with Ismail Khan and has been in alliance with the Karzai camp;
Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, a Nuristani from the eponymous eastern province, is a former Minister of Water and Irrigation (in the post-2001 transitional administration) and Deputy Minister of Defence, a position in which he was known for his professionalism and good relations with the international community. He was appointed Herat governor in 2009 but resigned in 2010 to run in the parliamentary elections, without success in the end. He has his PhD from the University of Arizona. Previously linked to the royalist Rome Group, he maintained good relations with former interim president Hazrat Mujadeddi, a former mentor of the president, and Karzai himself;
Qazi Sulaiman Hamed was also appointed as IEC commissioner in 2008, although he later left. He is an Aimaq from Badghis province, was a judicial adviser to the president and later Deputy Minister for Hajj and Auqaf. He studied at Kabul University’s sharia faculty and also has a background in secular law. Recently, he was a member of the Independent Civil Service and Administrative Reform Commission. Politically, he is seen as related to both Jamiat-e Islami and Mahaz-e Melli-ye Islami led by Pir Gailani;
Abdurrahman Hotaki, a Hotak Pashtun from Kabul, is a long-time civil society activist. After the collapse of the Taleban regime, he founded the Afghan Organisation of Human Rights & Environmental Protection (AOHREP). He is currently also the chairman of the Civil Society Coordination Jirga – a body that is widely seen as representing the co-opted, pro-Palace wing of the civil society. He has a Masters degree. His candidacy was reportedly supported by the president’s chief of staff Abdul Karim Khurram;
Sharifa Zurmati is a Pashtun and former MP from Paktia and another member of the Civil Society Coordination Jirga. She is a journalist by background had just started working as an advisor to the Minister of Women Affairs. She is also seen as close to the palace;
Mohammad Aziz Bakhtiari, a Hazara from Ghazni, used to work as the dean of private Kateb University. He has a Masters degree and is a known sharia scholar. Although politically not very active, he is seen as close to Second Vice President Karim Khalili;
Gulalai Achekzai is also an advisor to the Minister of Women Affairs. She has a degree in sharia and psychology, is a Pashtun from Kandahar province, was a delegate to the 2010 Peace Jirga and is also considered loyal to the president.

The nine commissioners were selected from a shortlist of 27. An English version of the list of 27 can be found here.

The process: independent and transparent?

The Selection Committee is a new addition to the electoral process, introduced in article 8 of the SDP Law (ie the Law on the Structure, Duties and Privileges of the IEC and ECC, see AAN reporting here). The idea was to make the appointment of the IEC and ECC more transparent and less partisan by introducing a committee to vet potential candidates on their credentials and independence. Although this makes sense in theory, in practice it seems that the game has still very much been played according to the old rules.

The Selection Committee was made up, by law, of the speaker of the Lower House of the parliament (the Wolesi Jirga), the speaker of the Upper House (the Meshrano Jirga), the Chief Justice, the head of the Independent Commission for Oversight of the Implementation of the Constitution (ICSIC), the chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and a person from the civil society organisations working on elections.

The first flaw in the process was that the Selection Committee steamed ahead, despite the fact that its sixth member, the civil society representative, was never added. The election of the civil society representative was held hostage to a conflict between the two election observation bodies FEFA (the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan) and TEFA (the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan) which split off from FEFA in 2009. Both organisations introduced their own candidates to the Office of Administrative Affairs and as a result neither was accepted.(1) FEFA has a long experience of election observation and their candidate, chairman of the FEFA board and former AIHRC commissioner Nader Naderi, had been highly critical of the proceedings during the last elections. TEFA, who introduced their own representative, Na’im Ayubzada, is a much more recent organisation and is largely viewed as part of the co-opted, pro-Palace civil society. The fact that the Selection Committee was prepared to move ahead without the presence of a legally required civil society representative, presumably to avoid having to suffer its critical input, does not reflect well.

The second flaw in the process is more difficult to put a finger on, but is clearly there: the fact that the new appointment process is actually very similar to how it used to be: largely based on relationships and conditional on Palace approval. The shortlisted candidates were to be selected based on competence, but in practice the applicants’ relations – with the office of the president, offices of the vice presidents, office of administrative affairs, cabinet members and the Selection Committee – are seen to have been the main factors affecting the judgement of the committee members. Moreover, there are indications of direct interventions from the Palace. Reliable sources told AAN on condition of anonymity that the Selection Committee members met the president and discussed the final list of 27 candidates before handing it over. The source added that during this meeting, “six new names were suggested in addition to those who were already being considered,” but it did not disclose the names. The names were added to the shortlist, while those removed names were put on a “reserve list” to possibly be shortlisted for the five positions for the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) that the Selection Commission will deal with after Eid.

The wrangling over the seats, the balancing of relations, the ignoring of the law when convenient, the direct interference of the Palace and the absence of a strong reaction all provide an indication of what the 2014 electoral process may be like. The IEC commissioners will have to learn quickly, and they probably will. They will probably try to organise an election that is technically the best it can be, as the previous iterations of the IEC did before them. And when push comes to shove, they will probably be pressured to do the bidding of either the Palace or their backers (or both).

(1) The Office of Administrative Affairs (OAA), which acted as a coordination body between the Selection Committee and the civil society organisations, introduced both names to the committee, even though the law gave only one seat. This was rejected by the committee. Civil society representatives blame the OAA for deliberately undermining the process and thus preventing the presence of a potentially critical civil society representative in the Selection Committee, as this could have been an obstacle to the smooth engineering of the final candidate list.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape