Political Landscape

Afghanistan Has a Two-Party System Now


Afghan parliament will vote on 9 April about a new interior minister, among others, after the previous one, Nur-ul-Haq Ulumi (here on a 2005 election poster in Kandahar) stepped down. Photo: Thomas Ruttig.

Afghan parliament will vote on 9 April about a new interior minister, among others, after the previous one, Nur-ul-Haq Ulumi (here on a 2005 election poster in Kandahar) stepped down. Photo: Thomas Ruttig.

No, this is not a joke. It really has one, at least for a couple of days. Yesterday, 15 Jauza (5 June), was the last day for Afghanistan’s parties to re-register, as required by a law. The MoJ official responsible for party registration confirmed to AAN’s Kabul office that all the old licenses are invalid now. That means that all but two parties are now basically illegal.

Three months pass as fast as the wind, indeed. And over the peace jirga, we (and the parties) had almost forgotten: The period for their re-registration – already extended by 3 months in March – has ended.

The law passed by parliament in June 2009 came into force on 9 September last year and initially had prescribed a six months’ deadline. The (non-party) parliament had decided that there were too many parties and that hurdles for their creation should be increased. Many Afghans, amongst them also many party members, think the same. (And we had discussed the problem of a law which, in fact if not de jure, is applied in retrospective around the first deadline on 8 March, see the bloghere).

Only two out of Afghanistan’s around 110 registered parties took the hurdle in time. One did by 8 March and a second party was about to be registered on Saturday, according to the MoJ (the relatively new Hezb-e Mosharekat-e Melli, or National Participation Party, and Hezb-e Muttahed-e Melli, or National United Party, of Nur-ul-Haq Ulumi) A dozen or so others still have their documents under scrutiny and can hope for the ministry’s mercy. These numbers, however, are not very impressive after three months.

Funnily enough, even parties who have members, or even their leaders, in parliament or who are run by people close to the President (and should be aware of new legal requirements) or who are rather active otherwise, have simply failed to recognize (or remember) the deadline. Our colleagues at the AAN Kabul office had the feeling that their phone calls actually awoke most of them from political hibernation.

The party contacts brought up all kinds of arguments why the law is rubbish, that the parliamentary elections should be postponed, the electoral law was more important etc. The only thing is: Afghanistan, at least on paper, is under the rule of law. And sometimes – nobody knows when it will happen – laws are really taken seriously. Like this time by the MoJ.

Regardless whether missing the extension deadline was the fault of the sleepy parties or of ministerial bureaucracy (the MoJ insists on checking 18 different data on every of the 10,000 required members of each party, not just the copied voter cards) or both: One has to look at it from the point of the political output.

Fact is that the whole re-registration operation was not a good idea. The extension moved it dangerously close to the parliamentary elections. Although this might not have been done on purpose, as a consequence it might hamper the already sidelined parties further and lower the quality of the elections. Political party participation in them are an international criterion for quality.

What does that mean now for the parties and for the next round of the ‘political process’, i.e. the parliamentary elections scheduled for 18 September?

Theoretically, all but the two officially registered parties have to stop all activities and are forces to look inwards. Of course, they still can run – individual – candidates as they always had done. But this will definitely not increase their public standing.

It is open to them to register (anew), of course. The MoJ, at least, said that they can use the documents of their first founding congress. But for some, this will be difficult. There were resignations, splits, deaths in the meantime… The founders are – now – required to have a BA, at least. But many parties have uneducated tribal elders among their leaders. What about them? Holding a new founding congress also costs money – and will be seen by some of the parties an impertinent demand because they are much older than the (first) party law, this parliament and the whole government. Afghan Millat and a few others go back to the pre- war (pre-1978) period; many of the tanzim are not much younger, they emerged during the fight against the Soviets; still a number of others established themselves in the underground during the not very pro-party pluralism regimes of the mujahedin and the Taleban – not a bad legitimization, one would think.

On the other hand, the whole affair is a clear sign of the general weakness of the Afghan parties. They all should have known since March, at least. Why did they not mobilize against the law?

But nevertheless, there are a constitution and laws that give them a role in elections and politics. A government interested in a smooth process should avoid creating obstacles. And that is happening at a time when Afghanistan needs more – not less – political participation and pluralism. Afghanistan political institutions will suffer and their balance will become even more lopsided, making the executive branch more powerful.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape