In hindsight, it is difficult to find out who first had the idea of Afghanistan having a ‘government of national unity’ (GNU) as the way out of the Afghan electoral deadlock. Currently, however, it is promoted by almost all the international players and, at least in words – an agreement how to implement it is still pending – by both presidential contenders and the incumbent. Afghan and some other commentators, however, have their doubts whether that form of government is an adequate solution for Afghanistan’s multi-layered problems. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig has been looking at the GNU experience in other countries, specifically at Kenya and Zimbabwe, and draws the conclusion that strong democratic institutions, the political will of the elites and international attention are key factors enhancing the chances for political stability. He argues that the emerging construct that puts a legitimate election versus a consensual solution needs to be broken.It takes more than two to make a NUG. Abdullah and Ghani locked in protracted discussions on Afghanistan's new cabinet. Photo c/o Tolonews.
Barack Obama wants it, the UN’s Ban Ki-moon and NATO’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen want it, too: both candidates for the succession of outgoing president Hamed Karzai should cut through the current electoral red tape and form a “government of national unity” (GNU).(1) In fact, the two candidates have already committed to an, as yet undefined, GNU, as a result of two political rescue missions by US Secretary of State John Kerry in early July and early August. Karzai himself is also pushing Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to come to such an arrangement. (2)
The almost complete unanimity about the GNU ‘solution’ on the political level is not shared by a number of independent Afghan and international commentators. Niamat Ibrahimi, a frequent AAN guest author, and Srinjoy Bose, for example, wrote on the Foreign Policy website that such a set-up is “risky … in the absence of well-organized political parties [and] may mean ethnic distribution of power”, which has been the de facto formula under Hamid Karzai’s administration.” Scott Smith, of the US Institute of Peace, a former UNAMA staff member and author of a book on the 2004 election, stated in an interview that such an approach was an “immense setback to Afghanistan’s democratic transition” at the cost of the voters’ choice. Others, like Helena Malikyar, commenting in a series of opinion pieces on al-Jazeera (here, here and here), support the concept as long as it is transparent and based on a clear election result and not on deals done behind closed doors.
It does not make a difference what the future government is called but how it works, and it is exactly these details that still divide the two candidates. That the devil is in the detail has also been the experience in other countries. Therefore, it is worth looking at some examples of GNUs beyond Afghanistan. Although many of the details, for example, of the outbreaks of election-related violence and external mediation to stop it in Kenya and Zimbabwe, look similar to the Afghan situation, there are serious differences in how the balance between power-holders and opposition is configured, how strong institutions are and how they interact. This is significant for those who want to find a lasting solution for the post-election tensions in Afghanistan and not only a short-termed diffusion of them.
Two cases: Kenya…
Even those who usually do not watch Africa closely will remember the horrible scenes of machete-wielding mobs hunting down supporters of ‘the other side’ after Kenya’s 2007 presidential elections. The elections had been narrowly won by the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, amid accusations of significant manipulation “on both sides” after, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, “Kenyans registered and turned out to vote in record numbers.” HRW added that “the most damaging acts of fraud were committed during the final stages of tallying the presidential poll, when the Electoral Commission of Kenya presided over what was by all appearances a desperate last-minute attempt to rig the contest in favour of incumbent Mwai Kibaki.” (3) The opposition, who had gained a majority in parliament, felt betrayed and kicked off the violence. According to conservative HRW figures, more than 1,000 people were killed and 500,000 displaced (4) in what threatened to spread countrywide and descend into full-scale ethno-civil war.
The crisis triggered the mediation of African leaders, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to stop the bloodshed and find a political solution between Kibaki and the opposition, tacitly admitting that the election had been fraudulent. The solution worked out over three months was called the National Accord and Reconciliation Act (NARA) which was passed into law by Kenyan parliament. It included the “formation of a Coalition Government and Establishment of the Offices of Prime Minister,” a position the country had only had for some months immediately after independence in 1964 as well as, significantly, a set of comprehensive reforms (quoted from this HRW report), which included:
comprehensive constitutional reforms, comprehensive electoral reform – including of the electoral laws, the electoral commission and dispute resolution mechanisms; a truth, justice and reconciliation commission; identification and prosecution of perpetrators of violence; respect for human rights; parliamentary reform; police reform; legal and judicial reforms; commitment to a shared national agenda in parliament for these reforms; other legislative, structural, political and economic reforms as needed.
This reflected the fact that the roots of conflict went deeper than the immediate triggers of the post-election violence, including “economic disparities” between ethnic groups and what the HRW report called “a century of land grievances” as well as “political violence and decades of impunity.”
The power-sharing agreement included the two leading presidential contenders and their political parties which together held only 142 of the 207 seats in parliament. This represented a two-thirds majority that could alter the constitution. (5) Kibaki retained the presidency and Odinga was given the new post of prime minister, while both parties received an equal share of the 40 ministerial posts in an inflated cabinet, the largest in the country’s history, a fact that received a lot of public criticism. Internal and international commissions were established to investigate “all aspects” of the election, including the causes of the violence, as well as a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (their reports here). An Interim Independent Electoral Commission replaced its discredited predecessor institution.
During the negotiations under Annan’s auspices, both parties wrangled over the powers of the newly created prime minister and over a possible election if the coalition should split. On the second issue, the NARA finally stipulated that “the coalition shall stand dissolved if: (a) the […] Parliament is dissolved; or (b) the coalition parties agree in writing; or (c) one coalition partner withdraws from the coalition by a resolution of the highest decision-making organ of that party in writing.” But it remained unclear whether the prime minister could be overruled by the president on certain issues. In hindsight, this never broke the deal, though, and opposition leader Raila Odinga remained in his position until the next elections in 2013.
The NARA was meant for a transition period only, as the position of a prime-minister was not part of the country’s constitutional history. In the run-up to the 2013 election, the position was abolished again as a result of a referendum on a new constitution that had been drafted by an all-party committee of parliament. At the same time, the new constitution curbed the powers of the president in favour of strengthening sub-national administration.
In the 2013 election, the betrayed winner of 2007 Odinga lost again. He challenged the results in the Supreme Court, but his case was rejected. He accepted his defeat, stating that Kenya was more important than his victory or defeat and urged the winner to reunite all Kenyans and uphold constitutionalism.
… and Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is much more authoritarian than Kenya and, for that matter, Afghanistan. It is led by President Robert Mugabe who has been uninterruptedly in power since independence in 1980. (6) In the 2002 presidential election, however, he came closer to defeat than at anytime before, challenged by the leader of the new opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Morgan Tsvangirai who scored 42 per cent of the vote. (Mugabe won ‘only’ 56.2 per cent.) Assessments about the election’s fairness were mixed: the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) said it was “transparent, credible, free and fair” while western observers and media criticised its conduct.
Already during the 2005 parliamentary election, ZANU-PF had reacted to this new opposition with intimidation and violence, thereby securing itself a two-thirds majority which allowed its government to change the constitution without consulting the opposition. But violence intensified and culminated ahead of the following election in March 2008 that was held simultaneous for presidency and parliament. It was organised top-down and conducted mainly by armed followers of the governing ZANU-PF party and the country’ security forces that were fully under the party’s control (read HRW’s 2013 report). More than 200 people were killed and thousands maimed and displaced (read here and here).
Despite the violence, a ban on even the OAU to observing and an official result announced only after more than a month, Tsvangirai topped Mugabe for the first time, with 48 versus 43 per cent. His MDC also became the strongest party in parliament, but was deprived of an absolute majority only because of a split, probably engineered by Mugabe’s side which created a third party that held the balance between ZANU-PF and MDC. As Zimbabwe has the same electoral system like Afghanistan, with the 50%+1 rule, a second presidential round had to be held. After continued intimidation of his followers, Tsvangirai withdrew from it a week before it was due to take place. Mugabe held the run-off anyway, ‘won’ with over 80 per cent. He was declared president again.
The tensions created by this election as well as Zimbabwe’s dire economic state (7) turned into a liability for regional countries, including South Africa, who had formed the regional organisation SADC (Southern African Development Community). SADC was forced to intervene politically. The negotiations to end the violence and find a political solution were led by then South African President Thabo Mbeki, who shared a common past with Mugabe as liberation fighters against Apartheid-style regimes, and was initiated under SADC auspices. The solution, officially called the Global Political Agreement (GPA), included the creation of a power-sharing “Government of National Unity” among the three strongest parties. This allowed Mugabe to remain president and made Tsvangirai prime minister, a post held by Mugabe since independence in 1980 and abolished in 1987 when he was elected head of state. The major sticking point was the distribution of key cabinet posts, particularly the interior ministry, solved – based on a SADC proposal – by rotating the job between the two strongest parties. The government was finally formed in February 2009.
As in Kenya, the GNU period ended after a constitutional referendum in March and elections in July 2013. But the legal and institutional reforms agreed by the three parties under the SADC-sponsored agreement that, according to a HRW pre-elections report “were expected to address various political, institutional and human rights issues ahead of the July 2013 elections have either not been introduced or are not being implemented” [emphasis added]. The government simply did not amend existing laws to bring them in line with the new constitution’s provisions.
Meanwhile, according to a still unpublished paper by Reginald Austin, a lawyer and election expert with a background in the Zimbabwean liberation movement who had widely worked with the UN abroad (including as a member of the Joint Electoral Management Body that oversaw the 2004 and 2005 Afghan elections), “ZANU PF had learnt that large scale, overt violence and intimidation was an unacceptable embarrassment to the SADC leadership, and not an option for the 2013 election.” Therefore, “immediately after the GNU was set up in 2009, [Mugabe’s party] begun to re-focus on more ‘standard’ electioneering practices […, making] full and effective use of its more ‘subtle’ instrument, the control of the police, Attorney General and the courts to harass, divert and exhaust the opposition and civil society critics, with repeated criminal charges, bail refusals and trials, which, though almost always ending in withdrawal or discharge, had the desired effect.” Also, all the heads of the highly politicized security sector had publicly stated and repeated that they would refuse to recognize any president but Mugabe. According to HRW there was simply no “level playing field” for all participants in the elections, and Mugabe and his ZANU-PF won both the presidential and parliamentary elections comfortably again. (8)
At the cost of some cosmetic reforms that did not change the deeply lopsided nature of the political system, Mugabe was able to re-consolidate his grip on power and save his face vis-à-vis the regional heads. But the major problem, said Austin, is that the “long standing problem of state-condoned political violence” remains in place, even for the post-Mugabe era. (This might continue for a while: The president is over 90 years old and has now agreed to a ‘limitation’ to two presidential tenures, beginning with the new 2013 constitution.)
Can lessons be learned in Afghanistan?
a) GNU as an instrument in existential crises
In general, it seems that ‘governments of national unity’ are likely to be established, and succeed as interim mechanisms in times of an acute threat to the very existence of countries, as was the case during the US civil war, the First and Second World Wars and the recent Euro crisis (see footnote 1). The countries soon return to a normalised situation that either can be competition between the traditional political forces (as in the US and the UK in the past or Kenya more recently) or an altered political party system as happened in Greece after the Euro crisis.
The Kenyan example, as well as some of the Euro crisis countries, seem to be the only recent successful GNU arrangements. In Kenya’s case, the massive bloodshed that had broken out immediately after the 2007 elections was ended by it and, at least for the time being, has not recurred. The country’s elites and their international mediators took unusual measures to adapt the existing political set-up to overcome the crisis. Even when the cheated loser of 2007, Raila Odinga, lost the election again in 2013, instead of creating havoc, he took recourse to the reformed institutions and went to court where he lost again and accepted this. South Africa also managed a halfway peaceful transition from a racist into a pluralistic and democratic system (9) (there was still a lot of ethnic violence between ANC and Inkatha supporters).
Afghanistan’s past decades have been characterised by extreme violence, but its main expression currently is the war between, on one side, the central government (to which both competing presidential tickets more or less belong) and its (now withdrawing) international allies, and, on the other, an armed insurgency. This war is not election-related. The major insurgent organisation, the Taleban, has not taken part in the disputed elections, while the second-largest, the insurgent wing of Hezb-e Islami, has meandered between rejection and supporting certain candidates.
This is in stark contrast to Zimbabwe and Kenya (or Cambodia, another case (10)) where the violence that triggered outside political intervention happened between the main contenders in on-going elections and then threatened to spiral out of control into civil war along ethnic lines. In Afghanistan, election-related violence, so far, has been threatened by some of those who see themselves as in political opposition to the Karzai government, playing with the notion of ethnic mobilisation or even direct violence. In fact, it seems that this threat has been mainly used as a bargaining chip between the two competing camps and, for example, pro-Abdullah protests after the second round were largely peaceful. But even if this reading is correct, nobody can exclude that an eventual outbreak staged by some hotheads might spiral out of control.
If there is an existential threat to Afghanistan, it rather derives from the persistent insurgency that, at least in its initial stage (and apart from outside support, particularly from Pakistan), was fed by violent political exclusion and widespread corruption in government. Despite some assurances by the Taleban, via the their periodic messages on religious holidays, that they would also tolerate other (but only ‘Islamic’) groups after a return to power, theirs would definitely be the end of any democratic notion in how the country is run. On the other hand, a unified approach between whoever ends up in government and opposition would seem a desirable approach to find a way to deal with the insurgency’s challenge.
b) The domestic political environment
In Zimbabwe (and in Cambodia, (10)), in contrast to both Kenya and Afghanistan, the violence was organised and top-down, by presidents and parties used to being in almost total control of both the state apparatus and the armed forces and launched in order to avoid unexpected election defeat. Afghanistan’s political system is still much more open then Zimbabwe under Mugabe, at least in what could be called a ‘power cartel’ composed of the current Karzai, Ghani and Abdullah camps. (This is a very short-hand description, as the camps are fluid.) (11) Although in Afghanistan the executive dominates (or manipulates) the legislative and the judiciary as well as the electoral institutions, the political opposition is not excluded even from executive power. Both on the central and the provincial levels, as well in the security forces, the ‘opposition’ (12) has had strong representation and influence over the past twelve years – in fact, it dominated the country in the first post-Taleban years, some of their heavyweights controlling the ministries of defence, interior, foreign affairs, intelligence and the presidential office. While the respective GNU scenarios in Zimbabwe and Cambodia were more about ‘shutting up the loser’, giving him some sweeteners and chucking him out again at the next opportunity, it will not be that easy to elbow the Afghan opposition out of the system completely.
Another lesson from Kenya – and even Zimbabwe – is the strong role parliament and political parties play in the implementation of GNU arrangements. In Kenya, although not Zimbabwe, parliament turned the political agreements that ended election-related violence into law and supervised its implementation. Its deeply entrenched (at least in comparison with Afghanistan) political party culture (13) – with the discipline a party-based parliament can enforce – kept all sides sticking to the agreements. In Zimbabwe, de facto a one-party system for many decades, the opposition that had emerged from its strong trade union movement also made its influence felt in parliament. Such a movement exists in Afghanistan only in a very weak form.
Both a strong parliament and strong and visible political parties are obviously lacking in Afghanistan, with its weak (although at times assertive) non-party based and fragmented parliament and political parties marginalised, excluded from key political processes like parliamentary elections and organised work in parliament. This is despite the fact that Afghanistan has registered political parties, some of them with decades of continuity, (see my paper here) and the constitution stipulates their active role. In tandem with Afghanistan’s over-centralisation, (14) this has prevented a consolidation of the major forces and their ‘crystallisation’ into (alternating) government and opposition parties – or at least clearly visible and halfway stable ‘camps’ – so far. Karzai has always rejected the idea of a ‘presidential’ party or movement, while the major opposition force – Jamiat-e Islami – (the ‘flag’ which Abdullah stood under) is divided in numerous factions that often do not pull together. This allows all players to change alliances and allegiances at will at any moment.
Also constitutional traditions play a role. Kenya and Zimbabwe had not had the position of a prime minister for most of their post-independence history; in both cases, it had been abolished as a result of quasi-authoritarian regimes. In contrast, Afghanistan had such a position in its “decade of democracy”, between the creation of a constitutional monarchy in 1964 and the 1973 coup d’ètat. The post was abolished at the Bonn conference 2001 in a push to establish a presidential system, under strong US influence.
c) Lack of democratic buy-in
Behind the election deadlock (which still might be solved “quickly and with smiles”, as AAN colleague Kate Clark put it recently, but with important issues possibly again postponed into an uncertain future – see sub-chapter e) below) looms the lack of mutual political trust among the different sectors of the Afghan elites. They still have not bought into the idea of a fully democratic election that ends with a winner and a loser and does not fully disempower the latter. The insistence to keep at least one foot in government even after a lost election has become a major cause of the current stalemate.
Another major Afghan shortcoming, resulting from the described situation, is the prevailing culture of solving disputes by means of violence or the threat of it (both with impunity), rather then taking the painstaking way through the constitutional institutions (despite a lot of lip-service to them when convenient).
The early but failed attempts to avoid an election altogether reflect this state of mind. There were two version of this. Some ‘tribal leaders’ and youth activists argued against elections altogether, Karzai’s tenure expanded or at least for a postponement of the election (examples here and here; for the role of tribal leaders, see this AAN analysis).
On the other hand, there was an early discussion about finding a ‘consensus candidate’ that might avoid a ‘polarising’ election or at least reduce the field of contenders (see our analysis here and here). The first one to come out with the idea of national consensus (ejma-ye melli) based on a national agenda (ajenda-ye melli) was Ahmad Wali Massud, speaking for the Ahmad Shah Massud Foundation. Institutionally, his idea boils down to the following summary (borrowed from Helena Malekyar’s already quoted articles on al-Jazeera; she says the document was prepared “by a group of intellectuals in consultation with political leaders, including the presidential candidates”; full text of Massud’s national agenda plan in Dari in his newspaper Mandegar, here):
The scheme, which may need some adjustments and refining, calls for the losing candidates to present a number of well-reputed technocrats from their teams to the winning candidate. The latter, in turn, is to show flexibility and wisdom and form an inclusive and competent government. The idea is to have a widely participatory and capable government, while breaking away from the tried and failed coalitions of past years… while a council of prominent political leaders would be formed to advise the president on matters of national importance.
This idea was picked up by Balkh governor Muhammad Atta Nur and late Vice President Muhammad Qassim Fahim. Massud himself brought it up again in a conference in August in Kabul where he complained, though, that the negotiating commission set up by both presidential teams to create a government of national unity did not refer to his authorship of the idea.
d) Detail and timing
The Kenyan experience also points to a major problem, as the current Afghan discussion has been aiming, so far, at agreeing at a GNU in principle, in the absence of any detail on how it would work. That this is an impractical approach was shown also by the audit which was launched before the invalidation criteria were agreed (that took weeks, simultaneous to the on-going audit). If changes in the government’s structure – such as the establishment of a ‘CEO’ or a fully-fledged prime minister – are made, they need to be made legal. In Afghanistan, constitutional amendments can only be approved by a loya jirga, which has been in the discussion already. But this cannot be left vague; instead, an exact time-line would need to be fixed to block either side from withdrawing from the agreement.
In this context, the difference between the amount of detail that was worked out in the Kenyan and even, if only mainly on paper, the Zimbabwe GNU agreements is strikingly different from the astonishing lack of detail so far publicised by both presidential contenders’ camps. And although one gets the impression, by looking at what has been said and speculated with regard to the authorities of a possible CEO, that the Kenyan example might have informed some actors’ positions, the failure of both Kerry mediations to give due attention to the necessary detail has in fact exacerbated the crisis.
e) Short-term and long-term approaches
The Kenyan and Zimbabwean examples also show that the process of comprehensive and not only constitutional but also social reform is the most difficult part. On Kenya, the International Crisis Group concluded after the 2013 elections, that the country had “avoided a repeat of the 2007-2008 post-election violence… However, a number of vital, more overarching reforms addressing systemic and structural conflict drivers – a culture of impunity, high unemployment, land reform, resettlement of internally displaced persons, ethnic tensions, weak institutions and regional and socio-economic inequality – have yet to be implemented” and that Kenya remained “deeply divided and ethnically polarised.” Without such reforms, however, the deeper causes of political crises cannot be tackled. So, even if the span of their implementation has to be counted not in years but decades, and the possibility of set-backs and stagnation figured in, it is necessary to acknowledge the need for such reforms.
What these examples have also made visible is that their implementation always depends on the political will of the elites to relinquish parochial benefits for the sake of genuinely national interest. The likelihood that this happens is higher in more open systems, like Kenya, while Zimbabwe proved that, under more authoritarian circumstances, reformist rhetoric often remains window-dressing. A very clear example where a ruling elite showed this determination – although after decades of stubborn procrastination and extreme violence and certainly under enormous internal and international pressure – was South Africa where the white supporters of Apartheid finally agreed to dismantle their racist state for the sake of their own political survival and continued political and economic participation.
Afghanistan: A real strategy at least?
Afghanistan’s election-related crisis is grave, as it undermined voters’ trust in democratic institutions and has even exacerbated an economic downturn, but it does not constitute an essential threat. This could only happen if it lingered on and led to more polarisation and even violence. But the current problems – basically, to determine who has won an election – should have been possible by constitutional means and the institutions at hand. This was impossible, however, as the institutions lack independence and had already been instrumentalised in previous elections. They also failed to establish the foundational requirements for a good election, such as the preparation of a reliable voter registry, or conduct themselves afterwards with transparency and consistence. This, of course, is not the failure of the members of the commissions but the way how they came into being. Also, many of these shortcomings have been known for years, as summarised in Democracy International’s 2010 “Consensus Recommendations for Electoral Reform”.
There was also little readiness by Afghanistan’s international backers to seize the issue of the lack of pre-election reform. For many years, many of its leading actors have been mainly interested in elections that produce an acceptable outcome, with not too much attention to the shortcomings. This was meant to guarantee a smooth ‘transition’ and make the withdrawal of their combat troops by the end of this year, including guarantees for a continuing small military US/NATO presence based on a BSA (see AAN‘s latest analysis), part of a success story. The three-months post-runoff election quagmire has proven that this strategy built on nothing but hope was unrealistic. Also, of course, the Karzai government has been adamant that this should be an Afghan election (even though it was, of course, internationally funded) without foreign interference in its running.
So the international players watched the post-2009 ‘Afghanisation’ of the electoral institutions and the sidelining of the UN from the political process – both pushed by the Karzai government – without significant resistance. Furthermore, over the past years, it silently dropped many qualitative ‘benchmarks’ on improving governance and fighting corruption, facing, as it did, a more assertive Karzai government that is labelling such attempts ‘external interference’ (more analysis in this AAN report). Earlier even, they failed to push for genuine democratisation. Finally, the Afghan elites’ wavering in the face of the difficulties in reaching a democratic decision through an election rubbed off on many of them – notwithstanding the efforts of the UN and others to buy political time with the audit and prevent the process from derailing.
These mistakes and forbearances piled up, were compounded by the political tug-of-war between the two camps who made it into the June run-off and broke the proverbial camel’s back this year, leading to a bitterly disputed outcome. The GNU solution seemed to provide the way out.
The election crisis has shown that Afghanistan is still unable to fully manage on its own. It continues to need international support, not only on the military and development sides, but also in institution building. This time, however, a superficial solution will be insufficient. Both the Afghan elites and the international community need to pull together, face their own failures and finally start to work seriously, bearing in mind where a failure might lead – see Iraq, Syria and the Islamic State. This necessitates attention to every detail and a combination of a short-term strategy – to prevent violence from breaking out, even if the likelihood for such a scenario seems to be low – with a long-term plan to close the gaping holes in the system, as it has been designed in Kenya. The emerging construct that puts a legitimate election versus a consensual solution needs to be broken.
(1) A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that GNUs have a long history, although under various names. And guess what: they seem to have started in the United States where President Abraham Lincoln, starting his second term in 1864 during the Civil War between the pro-slavery south and abolitionist north, presided over what was called a “National Union Government.” In 1917, both Canada and the then still independent British Dominion of Newfoundland, had “National Governments” to cope with the situation during World War I as did Great Britain during WWII and Croatia when, in 1991, it begun its war for independence from the Yugoslav federation. Greece, in 2011/12, and Italy, in 2013/14, took recourse to “national unity governments” to cope with the fallout of the devastating Euro crisis. (Not all parties represented in parliament at that point joined.) In Greece, it was accompanied by a subsequent breakdown of the established political parties system. I also used Wikipedia for most of the not specifically sourced information, mainly on dates and the unfolding of events, for example here.
(2) India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, in Kabul on 12 September, was one of the few visitors who avoided touching upon the subject, at least in her publicised statements.
(3) The official result was 46 per cent for Kibaki and 42 per cent for opposition leader Raila Odinga. (Under Kenya’s election system, the candidate with most votes in the first round wins; there is no run-off.) An exit poll commissioned by USAID, but released only six months after the election showed that Odinga had a six per cent lead. The 2007 election was Kenya’s fourth pluralistic presidential election after decades of quasi-dictatorial regimes. The country was a de facto one-party state from November 1964 (five months after independence) until 1992 under presidents Jomo Kenyatta (1964-78) and Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002). In the early 1990s, after the breakdown of the socialist system led by the USSR, Kenya was affected by the ‘wind of change’ that swept through sub-Saharan Africa and toppled military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. In 1992, Moi had to allow a return to a multi-party system, but still won the following two elections. In 2002, after a change of constitution, he was banned from running again and opposition leader Kibaki came to power.
(4) In December 2010, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague named six Kenyan politicians as suspects for crimes against humanity for their role in “planning and funding” ethnic violence after the 2007 elections. In an unprecedented move, they included in the person of the Finance Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, a serving member of government and, furthermore, the son of the country’s first president and independence hero, Jomo Kenyatta. Uhuru Kenyatta was one of the leaders of the opposition party, KANU, during the riots, had supported winner Kibaki and became minister in his short-lived post-election government and the subsequent GNU. In March 2011, he was indicted and in September that year appeared before the court, but maintained he was innocent and alleged the use of false and tempered evidence. Just recently, on 5 September, days ago, the case was adjourned indefinitely as the ICC chief prosecutor said she still did not have enough evidence to proceed. In the meantime, Kenyatta had successfully run for president in 2013. His vice president, William Ruto, had also been among the indicted in The Hague.
(5) However, it excluded other organised political forces whose number, however, did not reach the constitutionally required minimum to have an official ‘leader of the opposition’, a position also existing in the British and Indian system and now discussed in Afghanistan. As a result, 70 MPs, including a number from the two ruling parties, created a new opposition coalition, feeling that it was important for the sake of democratic government.
(6) Immediately after independence, Zimbabwe had a coalition government of the two strongest independence movements, ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People’s Union), the former led by Mugabe and the latter by Joshua Nkomo. Both parties had their basis were in different ethnic groups, with ZAPU on the minority side. Nkomo was Home Minister after independence until 1982, then sidelined. Under another power-sharing deal in 1987, which actually cemented ZANU’s dominance, ZANU and ZAPU merged into ZANU-PF (PF – Patriotic Front – being the name of both parties’ previous ‘united front’). Nkomo became Vice President, a position he held to his death in 1999.
(7) Zimbabwe, like a number of other African countries, had intervened in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1998 to 2002, costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars, causing hyperinflation and an 80 per cent unemployment rate. This exacerbated problems resulting from the HIV/AIDS crisis (the country lost a significant part of its economically active population), Mugabe’s land reform programme that expropriated farmland held by the white minority causing a sharp drop in agricultural yields and western economic sanctions. Between 2000 and 2007, Zimbabwe’s economy contracted by 40 per cent.
(8) HRW reported further that “the so-called unity government … has failed to hold accountable those responsible for past human rights abuses, including during the 2008 electoral violence [and] to reform key state institutions responsible for the administration of justice, which remain highly politicized and extremely partisan towards ZANU-PF.” According to Zimbabwean authors, “there was need for matching action” to rhetoric especially on the protection of human rights. HRW called the election “peaceful” but “the electoral process had major flaws, including highly partisan statements by the leadership of the security forces, restrictions on and intimidation of journalists and civil society activists, and a skewed voter registration process” as well as intimidation and coercion of voters, “ghost” and multiple voting and that “large numbers of people were unfairly turned away from polling stations” as had happened in the past. A second factor for MDC’s defeat was the party had discredited itself by splits and reports of misdemeanours by Tsvangirai himself.
(9) South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, after a four-year transition period, were clearly won by late Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) but Mandela tacitly allowed his party’s officially announced result to remain under the constitution-changing two-thirds majority. He formed a “government of national unity” that included the former white supremacist National Party and the largest ethnically-based Black African party, Inkatha.
(10) In Cambodia, after a Vietnamese intervention in 1978 had ended the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge, a pro-Vietnamese government was installed. The Khmer Rouge – now in an alliance with the royalist FUNCINPEC party and a pro-western group – continued a guerrilla war with support from the West, China and Thailand, established a government-in-exile, cynically enough called Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (the version of country’s name preferred by the Khmer Rouge) and received UN recognition. UN-sponsored peace talks were started to end the war, and elections were organised by the UN under King Norodom Sihanouk who had returned to the country as part of the deal. FUNCINPEC won the most seats, but fell short of an absolute majority though. Sihanouk decided to let the leader of the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), Hun Sen, form a government, in recognition of the CPP’s dominance in government and the security forces; FUNCINPEC leader Prince Norodom Ranaridh became deputy prime minister. But in 1997, he was kicked out of government by Hun Sen under a pretext. The country entered into another phase of de facto (but not de jure) one-party rule, and Hun Sen is still Prime Minister, under a new and much less charismatic King (after Sihanouk’s death in 2004). Only over the past decade and as a result of internal opposition and international pressure, has the country edged back towards a pluralistic political system.
(11) See, for example, how the field of possible contenders for the 2014 presidential election was reduced by imposing higher financial hurdles for candidates of smaller political parties who had never been given the chance to compete on a level-playing field. This happened at a point where the political future of the country was wider open again than any time since 2001, with Karzai leaving and has led to elections that were pluralistic only within certain limits.
(12) It emerged from the former ‘Northern Alliance’ that has ceased to exist and the term is disliked by its proponents but more widely known that its official name, National United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan. It was centred around Jamiat-e Islami party and its military network, Shura-ye Nazar, and its current incarnation is the presidential campaign of Dr Abdullah.
(13) Kenya’s party system, although it is very fluid, is deeply embedded in the country’s political culture. Many parties change names and alliances at each election, with only some of them showing strong continuity, though, like KANU (Kenya African National Union), the former independence movement.
(14) In order to avoid misunderstandings: This is not a plea for ‘federalism’ as suggested by some political forces in Afghanistan. Genuine federalism can only be achieved in a more consolidated democracy, otherwise it will lead to quasi-warlord fiefdoms.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020