Elections in 2015?

The focus of most of the pieces here has been the elections of 2014 and with the current state of uncertainty, there is certainly still much to be decided. We’ve talked some about the long term repercussions of the current vote (see for example this post on opposition politics or this one on potential fallout out), but it might be worthwhile, however, while the recounting continues to start thinking specifically about the scheduled parliamentary vote in 2015. In past Afghan elections, the international community has often began preparing for the vote at the absolute last minute, so the sooner conversations about the next round of voting start taking place, the better prepared everyone will be. With that in mind, here are some key concerns and questions that
we have begun thinking about:

  • Will the vote take place and when: With the current political disarray there could certainly be a case made for postponing the vote. None of the other parliamentary votes have actually taken place when mandated by the constitution (though all still took place within a calendar year), so it stands to reason that they could be pushed back.  With the chaos and perceived manipulation about the elections this year, however, another round of voting that is significantly delayed could cause long term drop in confidence in the electoral process.  An on time election could make 2014 seem more of a blip in the democratic transition.  There will be costs and benefits with each option.
  • Will constitutional changes alter the parliamentary election process: While it is unclear when and how the current negotiations between Ghani and Abdullah will re-shape the constitution, most feel that there will be constitutional changes.  This would mean a lengthy loya jirga process.  It’s difficult to see this happening before next year’s scheduled elections, however, it’s easy to see people arguing that a new parliament should not be elected before the constitution changes, which could be a further argument for delaying the elections next year.  The current members of parliament would likely argue that they should stay in power since this would guarantee them a spot at the loya jirga that rewrites the constitution (assuming the loya jirga takes place according to the current constitutionally mandated format).  They are especially likely to want the elections delayed considering the fact that so many incumbents lost in the last parliamentary elections.
  • What will the strength of parliament be:  Karzai spent much of his second term in office significantly weakening parliament.  Whoever the next president is, however, they will be come into office trying to hold together a divided country with much less of a clear mandate.  This could provide parliament the opportunity to really reassert themselves as a branch of the Afghan government.  While over the past few years they have been extremely divided and rarely active, the new president will provide an opening that some of the younger politicians in particular might take advantage of.
  • What sort of electoral apparatus will be in place: The credibility of the IEC and ECC has been incredibly damaged during the recent elections.  On one level this is unfair, since they technically are far more competent than they were in previous elections and, we’ll see what the ultimate legacy of the elections is, but it seems likely history will remember manipulation by the two main candidates as more a reason for the failure of this round of voting.  That being said, it will be surprising if a large number of the electoral officials in Afghanistan are not removed.  The form and composition of these bodies in the next round is likely to be very different.  (For example, while Karzai pushed to Afghanize the EEC by removing all international observers, many of the voters we have spoken with have actually applauded the re-insertion of impartial outside observers during the recount.  It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.)
  • What will the role of the international community be:  See the previous point, but there could be a larger role for international observers in the coming election.  Of course, it is also possible that international election teams will throw up their hands and decide trying to fix the Afghan election system is simply not worth the cost.
  • How will this all shape local politics: While all these questions remain unanswered, Afghan local politics continues to develop in interesting ways.  With international troops withdrawing and the Taliban reasserting itself, new balances must be created in delicate local political situations.  This could mean a reemergence of local commanders, but it could also mean that young politicians that are at the heart of Afghan civil society have a chance to build on the disillusionment of the population both with the current national government and with the Taliban.  Regardless of how they happen, it’s important to keep in mind that these elections are happening in the context of wider political changes.

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