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2010 Afghan Parliamentary Election

Checks and Balances of Power
Farhad Arian
Wednesday 8 December 2010

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More than 10 weeks after the 18 September Afghan Parliamentary Election, the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) announced the final results of the election on 24 October 2010. While the 2009 Presidential Election was significantly undermined by the widespread fraud and corruption, there were high expectations from the government of Afghanistan to ensure a transparent, credible and inclusive parliamentary election for 2010.

However, regardless of consistent efforts of the international community particularly the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA), the 2010 Parliamentary Election took far longer than expected due to the widespread electoral fraud and corruption the same as the fraud-tarnished 2009 Presidential Election. Consequently the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) invalidated about 1.3 million of the 5.6 million votes to further disqualified 24 winners after receiving more than 5,000 complaints of fraud across nationwide polls.

The final results of the 2010 Parliamentary Election particularly indicate that the government of Afghanistan has failed to have a majority of pro-government members in the new Parliament. In other words, President Hamid Karzai’s favourite candidates have not done well in the vote; hence, pro-government parliamentarians will no longer be the majority in the House of Representatives of the new Parliament compared to the previous Parliament of 2005 in which the government’s supporters formed the majority (NineMSN News, 2010).

According to the New York Times, President Karzai will be able to count on the support of at least 100 members of the new Parliament which is not enough to satisfy the Afghan government whereas Dr. Abdullah Abdullah the main opposition rival of the government has claimed that his supporters have won more than 90 seats out of 249 seats of the new Parliament. As a result, the new Parliament of Afghanistan will no longer be dominated either by President Karzai’s favourite members or by the supporters of Dr. Abdullah. The new Parliament, however, will probably introduce some checks and balances on the Presidential power (GGS News, 2010).

Compared to the previous Parliament of 2005, the new Afghan Parliament will probably have a better opportunity to place some checks and balances on the power exercise of President Karzai. As long as the Afghan electoral system does not provide political parties with the opportunity to run for the election in their own capacity, Afghan political parties have not played a significant role in the electoral process because the majority of candidates for the 2010 Parliamentary Election have run as individuals rather than the representatives of political parties (Bijlert, 2010). There are, however, concerns that the lack of the representatives of political parties in the new Parliament not only undermines the ability of the Parliament to introduce some checks and balances, but also gives the floor to the Afghan government to seek possible ways in encouraging individual parliamentarians to support the government dominance over the Parliament.

Despite the dominance of the new Parliament by individuals, the government of Afghanistan will still be facing a strong parliamentary opposition consisting of the supporters of Dr. Abdullah the main opposition leader, and the representatives of Hazara and Uzbeck ethnic groups who have been widely disappointed from the government in the last couple of years (Media-Witty News, 2010).
While placing some checks and balances on the power of President Karzai by the new Afghan Parliament is the cornerstone for strengthening the post-2001 democratization process in Afghanistan, competition between various parliamentarians, in particular, ethnic groups might undermine the ability of the new Afghan Parliament to maintain a balance between the Executive and the Legislative branches of the state. For example, widespread ethnic tensions were the most obvious features of the previous Parliament of 2005, which not only led to further fragmentation among ethnics rather than national unity but also provided the government with the exceptional opportunity to broadly ignore the Parliament as an independent branch of the state (Sultanpoor, 2005).

However, the new Parliament is significantly varied from that of the previous one due to the ethnic representation of Afghanistan. For instance, there were 45 – 48% Pashtun members, 24 –27% Tajik members, 11 – 13% Hazara members, 8 – 9% Uzbeck members, and 4 –5% other ethnic groups members in the previous Parliament of 2005 (Sultanpoor, 2005). However, the Pashto-speaking majority in the new Parliament has now disappeared and Pashtun candidates have won only 88 seats out of 249 seats which accounts of 35% of the representatives in the new Afghan Parliament (GGS-News, 2010). Not only the Pashto-speaking majority has disappeared from the new parliament but also Tajiks have reportedly won nearly the same seats as Pashtuns (RFERL-News, 2010). Based on the significant changes in the ethnic representation, the new Parliament will no longer be dominated by a specific ethnic group, in which the major ethnic groups will have the opportunity to cooperate to further constraint one another that is mostly important for the practice of democracy in the Parliament of Afghanistan.

To conclude, the final results of the 2010 Parliamentary Election of Afghanistan indicate that the Afghan government, regardless of its consistent efforts, has failed to have a majority of its supporters in the new Parliament. Not only have President Karzai’s favourite candidates had less opportunity to win the majority in the Parliamentary Election but also the ethnic representation of the new Parliament has been largely changed due to the significant disappearance of Pashtun members. However, the final results of the 2010 Parliamentary Election indicate that the new Parliament will probably place some checks and balances on the President Karzai’s power in the forthcoming years. If ethnic tensions again do not undermine the performance of the new Parliament, the new component of the Parliament will significantly contribute to power-sharing among various ethnic groups to further strengthen the democratization process in Afghanistan.

Farhad Arian is a former official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. He is currently undertaking a Master of Arts in International Affairs at the Australian National University (ANU).

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