Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published May 16
Heading towards challenging times of power transition ahead, we need radical electoral reforms. The parliament should make the amended draft of Electoral Law, which has to be submitted by the Independent Election Commission soon, top working priority. Fundamental amendments should be introduced into the Electoral Law to clarify parameters of Presidential authority regarding the opening of election campaign, monitoring of polls and certification of results. Nowhere on earth a sitting President ‘certifies’ results of Presidential elections, except in our mobocracy. The Electoral Law also needs further clarification on structure and administrative procedure of the Independent Election Commission and Election Complaints Commission.
In 2009, parliament adopted a law calling for approval of IEC commissioners from parliament. It was rejected by President Karzai. The current commissioners’ political sympathy for President is no secret.
There are serious flaws in the structure and administration of Independent Election Commission. Nomination of its chairman and members should be subject to parliamentary approval. Presidential nominations should be based on consultations with legislative, political parties and civil society. Members should have the authority to vote and elect their Chairman and Executive Body, rather than it being appointed by the President.
Parliament should open debate on other radical electoral reforms such as party laws and overhaul of Single Non-transferable Vote (SNTV). The Proportion Representation System should be adopted. The Electoral Law should clarify and provide for a transitional administration if polling cannot be conducted within the constitutional calendar.
The incumbent President’s term will end on May 22, 2014. Law must provide legal provisions for a caretaker administration. In last presidential election, when polls were postponed, President Karzai simply continued serving in office in contrary to the constitutional provisions. The current Administration has intentionally kept the law unclear on such circumstances.
For some changes, we need constitutional reform on electoral affairs. Schedule of presidential, parliamentary and provincial council elections are needed to be amended in coordination with the challenges and limitations experienced in previous elections and with incorporation of new demographics.
It would take pages to repeat the story of 2009 Presidential elections debacle and 2010 parliamentary elections crisis. Results were delayed for months. The last two elections particularly undermined credibility of the entire process. However, in the last six elections held for presidency, parliament and provincial councils over the past decade, we have learned about range of structural flaws, logistical limitations and demographic changes which need to be updated and improved. Our infant dysfunctional democracy has to be institutionalized. For that, we need radical reforms, and electoral process is its fundamental to start with.
It will take years to achieve all requirements of an improved electoral process, beginning with an electoral database. The international community bogged with other issues and priorities in Afghanistan have ignored institutionalization and strengthening of the foundations of a democratic system. For instance, The “Annex II, Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan” of the Bonn Agreement signed in December, 2001 in Germany mentions that the UN should conduct census and develop voter registration, which never happened.
Lack of an accurate census database has slowed down the entire process. Work needs to be started on development of an advanced electoral database with voter registration through biometric ID. All of it can be possible when a census is conducted and biometric IDs issued throughout the country.
One of the constitutional requirements which the Karzai Administration has failed to implement is elections for district councils and municipality. The Government should start it from now, on a phased schedule with most secure provinces first. President Karzai has been appointing his favorites as district governors and mayors, while the constitution requires that these officials come on popular vote.
The parliament should start debate as soon as the new amended draft of Electoral Law is submitted for approval. They should prepare legislation for reforms by the end of the year and changes should be introduced by mid-2013, to bring into effect by coming Presidential polls.