Politics in Afghanistan: Political Parties and Electoral Systems

Published: 2021-06-25
1828 words
7 pages
16 min to read
Boston College
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Research paper
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Afghanistan is a country which came into existence in mid-1700 as a tribal state under the guidance of Ahmad Shah Abdali. The country moved from its tribal status to acceptance of a national state as a result of Durand and Panjdeh treaty which increased the nation's borders both in the southeast and northeast borders. It changed transformed the country's landscape from a multi-ethnic to sectarian in composition (Emadi, 2001, pp. 427-450). The nation's state then recently experienced a shift from their usual state due to an event of terrorism done by Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters against the U.S. The American forces were forced to invade the nation when the militants decided against handing Osama Bin Laden to the U.S for prosecution on crimes done. The main questions on the minds of people are still as to whether the American invasion has helped improve the capacity of the Afghan political as well as economic systems. The economic landscape of the nation has gradually been on the rise since 2001 although this mainly due international aids and works geared towards development by the same foreign contingent. The American forces in Afghanistan were eventually downscaled and there stay there won't last long. The main way out for the nation would be international communities playing a role in the improvement of infrastructure, and the ever need for security and political stability (Thier & Chopra, 2002 pp.893-897).

The Afghanistan government since 2002 has been on the forefront to convert the image of the country in the international community with the aim of generating massive amounts of revenue which will play a role in stabilization of the country. This paper thus seeks to research and put to light the transitions in economic and political nature of Afghanistan since the turn of this century.

Political Background

The existence of political parties in Afghanistan dated back to the twentieth century and was mainly characterized by alliances and shifting of alliances. After the Soviet invasion in the 70's several groups or movements emerged known as mujahideen movements aiming to fight the rule of the Soviet Union in the country. They were mostly regarded as political movements back then, and they were split along ethnic and tribal lines as well as religious divisions. Following the withdrawal of the Soviet Union forces in the country, these factions ended up colliding with each other with coalitions and alliances being formed to gain a superior military advantage over the other. In 2001, the Taliban movement fell, and the Bonn Process was enacted with the aim of post-war reconstruction of the existing national institutions. This was followed by the enactment of the Political Parties Act in 2003 where several groups of individuals moved to be registered and recognized as formal parties. The remaining Taliban movement rallied around several leaders who they had accorded military support during the conflict period and still laid claim for the country's politics to remain tribal. New smaller political parties were formulated, others without the knowledge of the Taliban and were mainly regional with limited capacity to compete with the groups having ties to the anti-Soviet regime. These smaller parties rallied for the country to support them in a multi-ethnic approach when the country headed for the 2005 elections. By that time there was a total of 86 registered political parties in Afghanistan (Ponzio, 2007, pp. 255-275).

During this period the electoral system in Afghanistan was known as Single Non-Transferable Vote which made a preference for large and organized parties and independent candidates. 18 presidential candidates vied for the top seat during 2004 with only 4 of them having an affiliation with a political party. Then during the following year in parliamentary elections, 2835 candidates took part in the exercise, and only 14% were registered with any political party. The elections result further proved how the electoral system worked as those who emerged victorious were individuals with strong ethnic and community support, while those who won from political parties were only those with enough resources to enable mobilization and campaigns. The results of the elections showed the parties with the most number of candidates in government were those with affiliations from the various mujahideen movements (Aras & Toktas, 2008 pp. 39).

The SNTV system was preferred in the general election of 2004 due to the nature of its simplicity and requirement for a single individual single vote quality. The high levels of illiteracy in rural Afghanistan at the time also meant a complex election system would inhibit a majority from taking part in the election. Many of the onlookers were, however, skeptical of the system as it had no requirement for any candidate to be a member of a political party while also not giving limits to the number of individuals who can vie for a particular region or constituency. This caused vote splitting in the election with many candidates getting small percentages of the votes and the majority thus were unable to secure any political seats.

This system led to the highly uncharacteristic representation of the voters' choices of the majority of the citizen. There were also claims the system was meant to marginalize political parties in the election. Many of the Afghans had attributed their nation's instability to political parties thus they saw facilitating them would bring back instability through the losing political parties forging a force against the incumbent government. The major idea supported by the Afghans as well as the international community was the establishment of a well-equipped presidential system with the hope of ending conflicts through centralization of power. Political parties view has not changed much to date due to the close relationship that was made with the term party and jihadi movements in the country. Parties have further elevated this stand by the people as they lack any distinction from each other by making same stances as their counterparts. The parties further experience less coordination between party members and the leadership which make them lose the sense of unity within legislature for those elected from the same party (Ponzio, 2007, pp. 255-275).

After the 2004-2005 elections, several parties decided to cross the ethnic barriers to forge alliances and coalitions. In 2006, the country experienced the formation of the National Front through the action of different parties and leading political players who were against the then government. This movement had its roots in movements like the Northern Alliance and Islamic Front which were main players against the Taliban movements in the 1990's. The National Democratic Front also came into being which was also a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic political movement made up of about 13 parties. The parties had different previous ties to communist movement but shifted grounds to multiparty democratic politics and pluralism. Political parties' involvement in politics continued to increase over the ensuing years and improved their performances in elections (Aras & Toktas, 2008 pp. 39)

Politics and Social Integration

In 2009, general election there were more than 100 political parties registered to take part in the process. In the council races, the 30 political parties fielded candidates while independent candidates represented 80% of the total candidates. The country introduced a new party law during this times which made the existing parties to conform to new requirements and only five parties meet the requirements and were able to register for 2010 parliamentary elections. The number ended up increasing to 21 parties later on in 2010. Immediate changes in the electoral laws meant locking out candidates before the election. This law prevented any unregistered political party from fielding any of their party members (Imen, 2013, pp 234-236).

Towards the end of the year 2012, there existed more than 84 political parties in the country registered with the Ministry of Justice. Due to the election requirements parties end up centering themselves around particular individuals rather than political ideologies guided by interests of the people. Most parties still lack the necessary thinking that the role of political parties is to awaken the ruling and to keep them in check, but they promote issues of national interest,' building awareness towards the taking of educational responsibility or contribution towards the growth of a nation. Although this is some of the views, the political parties still lack specific roles and to fit the current context (Giustozzi, 2013, pp.318-335).

In 2014, the elections took place in the context of new laws governing elections which were made to reduce the influence of the president in the members of the electoral board. The above was achieved partly during the elections as the race went on a runoff between two candidates as neither of them garnered enough votes to meet the minimum threshold. The results ended up bringing dispute which was resolved by the U.S Secretary, and the country ended up forming a joint government. The government became successful through the formation of a new post of a prime minister who was referred to as Chief Executive Officer. The election was marred by allegations of fraud from the lowest job to the highest seat in the country which led to criticism and protests against the Election Commission. The nation's politics has been featured with the dominance of executive over the parliament. State affairs have been powered by international donors and international organizations such as world bank, United Nations and IMF (Khalil, et. al 2015, pp 88).

The domestic power setup is mainly composed of local strongmen who were formally members of mujahideen movements with economic powers with interests ranging from the banking sector, mining and funded construction works. Parliamentarians are usually operating in the shadow of the head of state constraining their ability to oversee and pass pro-democracy bills. They are further limited by their prescriptions to the Islamic prescriptions which are putative and the lack of proper education and training to gain knowledge of governance and leadership. Following the claims of election rigging in the 2014 poll, thousands of the Nationals took to the streets and alleys to show their disgust in the political and electoral systems marching up to the presidential palace. They were also supported by various associations such as the Afghanistan Banking Association, New Afghanistan Women Association, and Afghanistan Independent Bar Association. The civic space in the country is growing fast due to the enactment of Association law by the former head of state Hamid Karzai which has led to the registration of over 400 associations and operation of over 2000 NGOs in Afghanistan. The transfer of power come 2014, however, caused most of the scheduled amendments to be placed on hold such as the Law on non-governmental organizations, which was enacted in 2005 (Murtazashvili, 2015, pp. 78-92).


The key challenges faced by Afghanistan remain the formation of a political and economic stable, efficient form of governance needed to end the struggles among the population. There is also need for the review of the election laws to facilitate a fair and open process come to the following elections. The country further needs to conduct a national wide census to be able to perform strategic planning of resource distribution for development plans. Moreover, the nation needs to push for comprehensive reform to enable inclusion of women and youth more in leadership processes.


Aras, B., & To...

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