The country is gearing up for the next election. Local notables and the ambitious young are consulting and assessing the support they can muster. The Wolesi Jirga is still protesting the adoption of the new electoral decree, but nobody seems to be listening and the candidate registration process, which starts within a few days, will soon be demanding their attention.
The controversy over the new electoral decree – the one that provides the government with far greater control over the means of manipulation – remains unresolved, as so many legally ambiguous issues have before. The Wolesi Jirga rejected the decree, but the Meshrano Jirga decided to follow the President’s interpretation of the Constitution (which was that the Lower House had the authority to pass the decree but not to reject it). The Meshrano Jirga’s position was unsurprising, as the law does not really concern them; the 2/3 that was elected from within the provincial councils have just started their new term and the selected 1/3 hope to be selected by the President again.
Many internationals thought that there was still room for maneuvering, while the Wolesi Jirga pretended to wait for the official response of the Meshrano Jirga, but the Independent Electoral Commission pushed ahead, announced the electoral calendar and started preparing for the election based on the new law. And now that the two week deadline for the Meshrano Jirga’s response has passed and the Wolesi Jirga is still discussing its reaction, this seems to be a battle they have lost.
It seems to me that the Wolesi Jirga was playing for time. Quite a few MPs, those that generally support the President, were still smarting from the dressing down they had received from the President after the rejection of the law (“But why didn’t you let us know this law meant so much to you?”, some of them are said to have responded, “the former parliamentary affairs minister used to be much clearer about what you expected from us”). And they were watching, from the corner of their eye, to see how the internationals would react to the President’s outbursts and his refusal to roll back the main changes in the law.
But there were no hints that the internationals would support a confrontation. Instead they sought, and received, assurances that the IEC leadership would be replaced and that the ECC would include two international members. And although it is important to try to salvage what little means of electoral transparency might still be left, the insistence of the international community that Karzai ‘give’ them two seats in the ECC must have sounded very familiar to him, in the midst of all the daily petitioning and dealmaking he is faced with (the main reason why we still have an incomplete Cabinet and a list of pending governor appointments is that Karzai has not yet managed to juggle all the demands and promises on who gets how many seats where).
So preparations for the elections have started. The internationals have received what they need in order to present a semblance of IEC reform (in the form of a largely non-controversial chairman) and transparency safeguards (in the form of a joint ECC). And the Wolesi Jirga is left discussing among themselves which Constitutional articles apply and how they should be interpreted. There is still no authority that can arbitrate disputes over how to understand the Constitution, so disputes are still solved by the executive either pressing ahead until protests have died down, or securing a favourable Supreme Court ruling.
The Wolesi Jirga has sought to address this problem. In a recent session the MPs decided to give the government three deadlines: 10 days to introduce the remaining eleven ministers, 20 days to establish the commission for oversight of the implementation of the Constitution, and 30 days to clarify the country’s main policies (the latter was in response to Karzai’s seeming move away from the international allies and towards the insurgents and the realisation that they did not want such decisions to be in the hands of a single, emotional man). They have come a long way. The recent discussion on the electoral law, the national budget and the demands vis-a-vis the executive were sophisticated and substantive. And the three deadlines point towards real problems in the troubled relationship between the three powers.
For the moment, however, all of that is largely irrelevant, as the executive steams ahead and the country readies itself for another round of campaigning, deal-making and, inevitably, vote-rigging.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020