The South Asia Channel

Ghazni's election drama: It's the system

Afghanistan's Independent Election Council (IEC) has announced the eagerly awaited result for Ghazni province, which were the last of the outstanding lower parliament, or Wolesi Jirga, seats. At the same time, IEC chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi informed that this was "the final duty of the IEC regarding the parliamentary elections" of 2010. This also means that he is planning not to deal with any future decisions of the Attorney General or the Supreme Court regarding these polls.

When the preliminary results were announced on 20 October, all eleven seats went to Hazara candidates; Pashtuns got zero. On 24 November, the final result followed - without Ghazni. This was followed by a week of much dithering and speculation as to how this uneven result could be made palatable for Pashtuns. Even President Hamid Karzai made his dissatisfaction known. But - surprise, surprise - the final result is exactly the same as the preliminary one: 11-0.

Over the last week, most people were split into a "legal" and a "political" faction. The former - the eleven preliminary winners and their followers, as well as the IEC - argued that the law should be followed, i.e. only the votes should count and nothing else. The latter said that the lack of Wolesi Jirga representation for the Ghazni Pashtuns(*) might alienate them further from the Kabul government and create additional trouble in this province which is already insecure enough. In nine of the province's 19 districts, no votes were cast at all, and in another one (Andar), only three votes were found at the end of election-day. All of these districts are Pashtun.

The successful Hazara candidates of the "legal faction" had a point in claiming that it was not their fault that the security situation in southern Ghazni was so bad that most Pashtuns there did not dare (or bother) to vote while their own voters turned out in big numbers because their areas are much safer and their political factions better-organized. This assumes, perhaps mainly correctly, that Hazara would vote for Hazara candidates and Pashtuns would vote for Pashtun candidates.

The losing Pashtun candidates cried foul. They pointed to the fact that their ethnic group, the largest in the country from which the Taliban still recruit most of their fighters, now will feel under-represented in the Wolesi Jirga and might turn their back fully on the government. They are now considering involving the courts, and were encouraged to do so by the President. Returning from the Lisbon NATO summit, he told a press conference that the dissatisfied candidates should not create havoc with protests but turn to the Supreme Court - which, in contrast to the Attorney General's office, had not involved itself in electoral affairs. Up until now.

The Pashtun candidates who had seen many of their votes disqualified, in particular, point to the fact that there was also a lot of fraud, such as ballot stuffing, in Ghazni's Hazara areas. This can be safely assumed. However, even if the numbers have to be taken with a pinch of salt, they speak a clear language: 154,000 of the 181,000 votes cast all over Ghazni were cast in favor of the 53 Hazara candidates running while the (not) united Pashtun and Tajik candidates share only 27,000 amongst themselves.

The second, "political," faction had proposed a number of "solutions": to add a few Pashtun candidates to the Ghazni results list; to persuade some of the preliminary winners to withdraw - in exchange for prestigious posts elsewhere, in the Senate and ministries; to hold new elections next year and allow the current Ghazni parliamentarians to stay on in the new Wolesi Jirga. But none of these suggestions flew. In the first scenario, no one was able to explain how this could be done within the law because even the next 12 candidates on the Ghazni ballot sheet were non-Pashtuns. In the second scenario, the winning candidates were simply not willing to do this. In the third one, no one could be sure that the security situation would have improved by then. Anyway, even if any of these scenarios had been been chosen, it would have been another victory for opaque back-room deals over the rule of law.

Worrying, but not surprising, was that apparently some of the powerful international actors in Kabul (among them the UN) were also pushing for a "political solution," in effect circumventing Afghan law yet again. After yesterday's IEC decision, one can argue that at least this time the law gained the upper hand.

Not all Pashtuns, by the way, see the defeat of their Ghazni brothers as necessarily negative. A former provincial governor told Afghanistan Analysts Network: "If any elections took place in Afghanistan on 18 September, it was in the Hazara areas." A few other people we spoke to said it might be a necessary wake-up call to Pashtuns to start organizing themselves. Indeed, political organization among Pashtuns is much weaker than among most other ethnic groups (not that this kind of organization, along ethnic lines, would be our preferred model.) And most of the people we spoke to about this Ghazni election drama - as we might call it - agreed that a "political solution" would have been the most harmful way to deal with it. One pointed to the fact that there was no particular upheaval when, as a result of the 2005 parliamentary elections, the similarly Pashtun-Hazara divided province of Maidan-Wardak(**), next door to Ghazni, returned four Hazara and only one Pashtun to the house. Probably, underrepresentation is more a problem of the losing candidates and of those who plan to manipulate the incoming parliament by playing the ethnic card.

The President (who is away in Kazakhstan), the Attorney General or other governmental branches have not yet reacted to the IEC's decision to publish the Ghazni result. With the losing candidates' threat to go to the courts, this still can be expected. However, the EU and the UN (read the latter's short statement here) have already welcomed the announcement of the now final final result and said, almost in the same words, that they "look forward to the prompt inauguration of the Wolesi Jirga." They want to move on.

The Ghazni election drama cannot be explained only in its ethno-political context, though. Problems started much earlier, before the first parliamentary elections in 2005, when the decision was taken about Afghanistan's future election system. Fatefully, a particularly strange version of a Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) model, combined with multi-seat constituencies (read an earlier blog on this here) was chosen. Oh no, let's not talk about spilled milk, some will say now.

But as the Ghazni drama now demonstrates, spilled milk remains in the fabric of the political system and might start to stink. This is starting to occur even to some of the winning candidates, one of whom pointed to their attempt to divide big provinces like Ghazni, Herat, Kandahar and Kabul before the election into smaller constituencies that would have been easier to handle.(***) But this attempt failed. It was also only half-cooked: Ethnic imbalances would also have occurred in smaller regions. It is the SNTV system as such, regardless of its form or cut which will produce such outcomes time and again. However, the only really way to make elections work in Afghanistan is to scrap the system which has already done so much damage in two elections.

The best way forward would be if those parliamentarians in the house rallied support, and those outside - the unsuccessful candidates, civil society and other democratically minded Afghans - to link up together to push for genuine electoral reform. This would need to look beyond personal ambition and anger, to the broader national interest. Those protesting in the streets are much too angry for this now, but hopefully this anger will subside after some time.

(The final result for Ghazni can be found here.)

(*) Ghazni province is roughly divided by the split by main highway's Kabul-Kandahar stretch into Pashtun areas (to the southeast of it) and Hazara areas (to its northwest), with some Tajiks sprinkled in.

(**) Maidan-Wardak is the politically correct name of the province, embodying its Pashtun (Wardak, the name of a tribe) and its Tajik/Hazara (Maidan) half. Most of the time, though, it is simply called Wardak, as on the IEC website.

(***) This initiative also reflects that many people were aware of the danger that the election would go wrong in Ghazni, and one really wonders why no one did anything about it.

Thomas Ruttig is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, where a version of this post was originally published. He speaks Pashtu and Dari. 

John Moore/Getty Images

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