Afghanistan: Wither Parliamentary Democracy?

Elections to the Afghan Parliament or Wolesi Jirga as it is known were held in September 2010, the final results were declared in December and the parliamentary members took oath in January 2011. However almost one year later there is still consternation over elections of 62 members who have been disqualified by the Special Elections Court. The Elections Court appointed by President Karzai as per some to put his own people in the Parliament was a disputed move, now its results have become a controversy. All this is no advertisement for parliamentary democracy and the Taliban would be possibly having the last laugh.  

To overcome the criticism about the Special Courts, Mr Karzai has asked the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to go through the announcement of the Special Elections Court and declare the final verdict. As reports last came in 9 lawmakers from Herat, Helmand, Zabul, Faryab, Paktika, Badakhshan, Samangan and Baghlan provinces have lost their seats. From 62 it appears to have come down to 9. 

Very promptly the 9 MPs said they would not leave Parliament because the constitution does not have the provision for review of results once declared. Their supporters in parliament Coalition to Support Law condemned the IEC decision as illegal. However the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) has come out in support of the IEC. More farce for parliamentary democracy perhaps but see how the same has played out.

The IEC’s announcement that it would take into consideration the decisions of the Special Elections Court and make some changes in the parliamentary results was welcome news in some respects. This will solve the differences that were there between the President’s office and the IEC as the latter had refused to even acknowledge the rights of the Special Elections Court to question the results. In all likelihood 9 of the 62 parliamentarians whose elections have been declared void may be unseated in the parliament and how this would impact the local situation on the ground remains to be seen, there would be no doubt agitation but that may be contained. But then the long impasse has worn out some of the agitators on both the sides and a reasonable solution should now be in the offing by accommodating some of the disqualified candidates in various appointments inside and outside the government if so required.

On the other hand with the final decision by the IEC, the sixty-two parliamentary candidates, who have been declared as winners by the special election court, were hoping that the Commission stand by the verdict of the Courts and will go to the streets in case their appeal is rejected.  The IEC has declared only a few of the candidates as elected and the remainder will have to wait out for the Commission has possibly applied its own findings to the Court results. While it would be dependent on the President to accept or reject the same, given the long impasse, Karzai will also be hard put to take a decision in an issue which has been only made complicated by his interventions in the past. So expect some more political turbulence in the country.

The political atmosphere over the elections has increasingly polarised groups in the parliament supporting the President and those as Coalition of Hope and Coalition supporting Law opposing him. The Upper House on the other hand is openly coming in support of the President and has sought to defuse the crisis, but outpourings on the street are also resulting in added pressures as the government is finding itself at a wits end to handle the parliamentary elections fraud issue. As the confrontation between the President and the parliament is growing there is the Meshrano Jirga came in support of the President and has said that the ongoing sit-in by some members of the lower house was illegal and amounted to insulting President Hamid Karzai. The Attorney-General is also insisting that the verdict of the Special Elections Court should be implemented earliest. The situation is thus increasingly volatile an outpourings in the public domain are more than likely.

It may be better to act transparently so that public confidence is restored. More over the President must bite the bullet and even if he does not have adequate number of supporters in the parliament it would be a good strategy to gain support of the MPs within than attempting to plant some from outside. Thus how the situation pans out in Kabul remains to be seen.

As for the Taliban who are no paragons of virtue or democracy this impasse has led to ideal fuel for propaganda of the parliamentary system. They are increasingly pointing towards the infighting in the parliament as well as protests on the streets to indicate that their warped system of governance is better. 

More over institutional weakness is no solution in a country conflated by insurgency as Afghanistan continues to be even a decade after intervention. All sides must work to strengthening the same rather than pulling down each other. Hopefully this tangle will be resolved and parliamentary democracy will not be seen as a hopeless case by the Afghans. 


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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