Parliamentary elections were scheduled to be held in Afghanistan on 15 October 2016, to elect members of the House of the People, but were postponed to 7 July 2018 and then again to 20 October 2018. Much of the prelude to the election has focused on the debate over reforming Afghanistan’s electoral laws. The current system is one of single non-transferable vote.
Fallout from 2014 Presidential election
Most of the problems have centered around pre-existing disputes within Afghanistan’s coalition government between the two main candidates from the 2014 Presidential election. The overhaul of the Afghan electoral system prior to a new parliamentary election was a key part of the post-election power-sharing deal reached between President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Whilst both agree in not holding an election before the process is overhauled, there is disagreement on how to proceed and who should oversee the process. Ghani’s recommendation of Shukria Barakzai for the post was rejected by Abdullah, who saw her as being too close to Ghani. Simultaneously Abdullah has also been strongly opposed to the same officials overseeing the election as oversaw the 2014 Presidential election, due in part to the widespread belief that Ghani benefited from the 2014 elections irregularities compared to Abdullah. Tying into this is the fact that no officials from the election have been charged with any crime or removed. In contrast to Abdullah’s more hardline calls for total overhaul, Ghani’s supporters have been more supportive of more limited reforms.
Issues to be addressed
One of the major issues in need of reform has been voter registration. Afghan voters are currently not limited to voting in particular areas, meaning that they can use their 2001-issued voting cards in any polling station. Simultaneously there have been 3 major registrations since 2001, resulting in a total of 20 million election cards being distributed. In contrast, Afghanistan only has an estimated 12 million voters, making the number of cards in circulation a source of potential fraud. Introducing an electronic identity system is a difficult process however, with some estimating it may take up to 10 years.
The continuing failure to set a date for new elections or reform the system led to the United Nations Development Programme to cancel a multimillion-dollar project to fund Afghan electoral bodies in June 2015. The cut came at a time when Afghan aid projects were coming under increased scrutiny.
On July 16, and following a 9-month delay, Ghani issued a decree establishing a 16-member commission to look into electoral reform. The parliaments term expired on 22 June 2015, leading President Ghani to issue a decree extending the parliament until new elections. By August 2015 the commission had begun looking at the issue of voting reform.
Electoral Reform Commission proposals
On Sunday 30 August 2015 the Electoral Reform Commission submitted their proposals, following a month of deliberation. Amongst the proposals were calls for allotting 83, or 1/3, of the Afghan parliaments 250 seats to political parties, in accordance with the parties national results. Other proposals included the restructuring of the current election commission; the creation of a clear voter identification system ahead of future polling; and moving to an electoral system that divides provinces into smaller voting districts that can be easily quarantined in case of fraud. According to the New York Times, observers felt that the proposals weighed towards the view of reform favored by Abdullah Abdullah.
Disagreements over the plan saw two members of the commission; Kawun Kakar and Shah Mahmood Miakhel, who are believed to be close to Mr. Ghani, walking out. Both criticised the plan for allocating party seats on the basis of a national constituency result. Instead, both felt that smaller, more local constituencies would offer a closer link between parliamentarians and the electorate, whislt they felt the suggested system discriminated in favour of larger, national parties. Shah Sultan Akefi, the head of the commission, rejected these claims, and argued that the proposed system was important for developing national political parties, instead of maintaining the current system of non-partisan, and ideologically divergent independent candidates.
Sources and Further Reading:
Electoral Reform, or rather: Who will control Afghanistan’s next election?
Afghan Panel Sets Election Date, Drawing Government Criticism
Afghanistan parliament elections likely delayed until October