Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Footnotes to an AAN political parties blog

Andrew Wilder 4 min

On 13 September 2010, we published a piece about the role of political parties in the current Afghan election process and also touched upon the issue of the election system, the Single Non-Transferable Vote or SNTV. We called the latter ‘a party-less party-hostile system’. Our frequent author Aunohita Mojumdar disagrees – and finds the Afghan SNTV/multi-seat-constituency combination even worse than pure SNTV. Further read passages from an interview with Andrew Wilder, now director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and from a recent poll by Adenauer Foundation in Afghanistan.

1. A Combination Worse Than SNTV
As an appreciative reader and supporter of the AAN, I must point out that the SNTV is not synonymous with a party-less party-hostile system.

While my personal preference is for the party-list system (such as in Germany) which I feel is much more democratic than the SNTV, the Indian system has political parties and the SNTV both. How does this work? We don’t have multi-seat constituencies like Afghanistan, but single seat constituencies.

For example the city of Delhi is divided into seven seats and seven constituencies. So, a political party can field seven candidates. Each candidate contests from one seat and therefore does not eat into the votes of his party colleague who is contesting from a different constituency. The winner of each constituency is decided by the candidate scoring the highest number of votes in that particular constituency and there is no system of excess votes being transferred. This allows political parties to consolidate their vote-bank and emerge with strength, though it divides the vote-bank into smaller parcels, i.e. constituencies.

While this is less democratic than the party-list system, it still allows vibrant political party participation which we have in India. What it prevents is the growth of smaller political movements, streams and parties who could have got a share of seats/power from the party list system, but are unable to defeat large parties in the SNTV first past the post system. On the other hand it also allows unaffiliated individuals into the system if he or she is strong enough to defeat all the candidates from all the political parties in his or her constituency.

I feel strongly that the political electoral system in Afghanistan should not be described just as the SNTV because that is almost letting it off the hook. What it does is combine two very different political systems with different requirements – the multi-seat constituency of party list systems [just without parties – AAN] with the SNTV of a multi-constituency system. As you probably know this particular and peculiar combination is replicated only in two other places in the world – the Pitcairn Islands and Vanuatu (*) according to DI. This makes the absurdity of the electoral system even clearer. It also make clear the fact that Afghanistan’s current electoral system was not just one among many common electoral systems that Afghanistan could have adopted, but that those in decision-making chose an extremely obscure system specifically and deliberately in order to prevent political consolidation and political parties from growing, which, as you point out, is a sine qua non of a functioning democracy. Not mentioning the two conjoined contradictions is giving the system and those responsible for it too much credit.

(*) Babak Khalatbari’s article (see pt. 3 below) also mentions Jordan.

See our original blog ‘Political Parties at the Fringes Again’ here.
2. Parliament Without Parties No Effective Check

‘[A]nother problem is that political parties are very weak in Afghanistan, and for parliaments to function effectively, basically they need a mechanism to organize themselves. And in most parliamentary democracies and virtually all other democracies — that’s political parties.

In Afghanistan, political parties are historically unpopular, but also the voting system has been designed very explicitly to try to keep political parties relatively weak and ineffective and, therefore, Parliament relatively weak and ineffective, relative to the executive branch. I think one of the problems in Afghanistan is you can have the elections to Parliament, but unless you have more effective political parties, Parliament does not serve as an effective check on executive power’.

From: Larisa Epatko, ‘Afghanistan Analyst: Election Marks an Achievement, But Complaints Pile Up’, PBS 20 September 2010, find thefull text here.

3. Afghan Pro and Con on Parties

The Kabul office of the German Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (Foundation) and the National Centre for Policy Research (NCPR) of Kabul University have organized already its third poll about opinion trends in Afghan society from 30 August to 6 September 2010. 5,000 participants in five provinces with universities (1,000 each in Kabul, Herat, Nangarhar, Khost and Balkh) were asked twelve questions, amongst them about the role of political parties. KAS emphasizes that this is no representative.
On the question whether political parties play a role n in Afghanistan, 37% of the replicants answered with ‘Yes’ (2008: 48%; 2009: 40%).

KAS also interviewed Afghan parliamentarians and academia about this issue. Shukria Barakzai called the weakness of parties the greatest obstacle in the parliament’s last legislative period: ‘Afghanistan needs a party democracy. […] Democracy will not take root without parties in Afghanistan.’ Noor Ebad, since 2007 head of the NCPR and minister in the 1990s, stated: „Without the strict implementation of laws there will never be the rule of law in Afghanistan – and without political parties we will be unable to finish the process of democratisation.’ Kabir Ranjbar, chairman of the judicial committee in the Wolesi Jirga criticizes the SNTV system: ‘It marginalizes the parties – and therefore they practically play no role.’

Babak Khalatbari, KAS representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan who comments on the results of the poll and the interviews, concludes that ‘Afghanistan’s democratic potential’ has not been utilized and that the country seems to slip ’further and further away from a party democracy’.

He proposes to strengthen Afghanistan parties after these elections. On the basis of a new party law, parties should annually receive government funding, based on ‘how much they are rooted in society’ – measured along votes received in elections, membership figures and received donations and with a ceiling that should not be higher than the particular party’s funds raised from other sources.

This last part seems to be the weakest point of the author’s argument: Since parties cannot genuinely participate in elections, it will be difficult to measure their votes – and under current Afghan circumstances it is easy to manipulate membership and fund raising figures. Furthermore, there is already a drastic imbalance between some rich (and often armed) parties and the many have-nots. The proposed system will only deepen this gap.

From: Babak Khalatbari, Parlamentswahlen in Afghanistan: Demokratie ohne Parteien?, KAS, 17 September 2010, find the full text (in German) here.


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