On Monday, the six-month’s deadline for a re-registration of Afghanistan’s 110 registered political parties is ending. This is based on requirements of the new political parties law passed by the parliament in June 2009 already. After some back and forth between the executive and the legislative which led to some amendments in detail, the President signed it on 6 September 2009 and it was gazetted three days later, on 9 September. This is when the deadline for re-registration came into force.
The new law (see the Dari texthere) increases the hurdles for the registration of parties considerably: for example, parties now need to have 10,000 members at least, instead of 700 members before. This has to be proven by signed membership forms that include the member’s ID card numbers. (Not all Afghans have ID cards, though.) On the other hand, it allows higher donations to parties now. A single donor can give up to 5 million Afghani, it was 2 million hitherto. This, however, won’t be easy to monitor. A proper mechanism to oversee party financing is still missing. A second change in the law opens the way for political party activities abroad; it can be assumed that this includes fund-raising what was prohibited before. The parties, however, are still banned from opening offices abroad.
Further, it extends the categories of people that are not allowed party membership ‘during the tenure of their office’. This formerly covered ‘judges, prosecutors, leading cadres of the armed forces, officers, non-commissioned officers, other military personnel, police officers and personnel of national security’. Now, members of the Supreme Court, of the Independent Commission of Monitoring the Application of the Constitution (which does not exist because the President has blocked it after the parliament had voted in favour of establishing it), of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Independent Election Commission and of the Civil Service Commission’.
The only problem with the law and re-registration: Many parties had not even heard about this requirement. This is partly the parties’ fault. They should follow the development of laws which are important for them, like the political parties and the election law. On the other hand, also the government has a responsibility to inform. Enquiries of AAN with several parties have shown that the official letter by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which has a registration department for political parties and social organizations, informing them about the need to renew their registration has not been received by many of them or came months late. Also, the registration guide was not available in time.
As a result, only one party has registered yet. But this likely had happened anyway because the party is new and has registered on the basis of the new law already. Another one has submitted its documents but they are no considered sufficient yet by the MoJ. 64 more parties collected the necessary forms and the registration guide.
Fortunately, the MoJ now has extended the re-registration deadline for three months, after the cabinet approved this on 6 February this year. But also this decision has not been widely published yet. We have not been able to find any newspaper report covering this. And is has not been put on the MoJ website yet. (This will be done, hopefully, on Monday).
Interestingly, no Afghan party we talked to has objected to the issue and most said they are going ahead with the new requirement. This reflects the opinion of many Afghans – also amongst political party activists – that there had been what they consider a useless proliferation of political parties. Currently, 110 political parties are registered with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). It will be interesting to see how much the new registration requirements will actually bring down their number. Although a few parties say that they take this as an incentive to seek unity with likeminded ones, obviously no party sees the own one as superfluous. As the previous elections have shown, it also is not too difficult to gather 10,000 ID cards. (The List of registered parties in Dari here; the English list has not been updated since months and still contains only 84 parties.)
Nevertheless, this new law again raises the major question of how laws are understood to be working in Afghanistan in general. On 13 December 2009, the independent Kabul daily ‘Hasht-e Sobh’ (8 am) in its Pashto section published one of the few publicly available reports on this law titled ‘Har siasi gund bayed 10,000 gheri wu-lari’ (Each party needs to have 10,000 members’, see the article here). There, Justice Minister Sarwar Danesh is quoted as explaining that the new law also applies to parties that already had been registered under the old one, simply because ‘the invalid [old] law has ceased to function as a [legal] basis’. This means that, in the government’s view, the new law will be (and is) applied in retrospective. This should not be the case because, firstly, it is a universal principle that laws are not applicable in retrospective and, secondly, the new law virtually dissolves parties if they do not re-register. This has a taste of arbitrariness, reflecting the generally hostile stand of the executive vis-à-vis political parties in general that have been practically excluded as such from previous elections.
In fact, the status of the previously registered parties should not be affected by the new law. The new law should be applied for new applicants only. The best method to reduce the number of parties are actually elections. But as long as Afghan elections are based on the party-less SNTV system (which was not touched by the law amendments) each party can claim as many supporters as it wants.
Also, minister Danesh’s comment quoted in ‘8 Sobh’ that the new law is supposed to ‘prevent the creation of very many parties’ is inappropriate. A neutral body that registers parties should not comment on the number of parties but just make sure that registration conforms to the requirements of the law. Also, the newspaper’s comment that the new minimum membership figure ‘showed that previously all political parties have not fulfilled this criterion’ shows a weak understanding of the law. (It is also incorrect: A minimum membership of 700 does not exclude that parties have more members.) This is sad because this newspaper usually defends human and political rights.
Furthermore, the issue of political party registration is another point for the necessity of a reform of the whole electoral framework. Ideally, political parties should be registered by a neutral and not a governmental body. The Afghan constitution and laws give political parties the right to field candidates and have them elected. As a result, it is possible that a member of a certain political party is appointed minister of justice and has, in this function, to monitor political party registration and their conformity with the law. This opens the space for, in the sense of the word, a partial approach to registered or applying parties.
The authority to register party and monitor whether their activities are in accordance with the law should lie with an independent body. Ideally, this could be the Independent Election Commission. But the latest presidential decree on amendments to the electoral law (already discussed on this website) and his unwillingness to bring about necessary changes in this body – although demanded by a large number of Afghan and international actors after the flawed 2009 presidential election – shows that this would bring the political parties from out of the frying pan into the fire – another argument for a real, ‘organic’ reform of those laws.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020