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Election Rules Called Unfair

Some candidates for the country’s first democratic legislative election are warning that voters may be shortchanged.
By Wahidullah Amani

Months before the nation is due to pick its first democratically elected legislature, there’s concern that rules governing the vote will render the outcome unfair.

Some analysts and candidates are especially upset by the rules stipulating that the candidate’s party affiliation will not appear on the ballot and that 68 seats in the national assembly have already seen set aside for women.

The September 18 election will fill 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house. The number of seats from each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces will be allocated on the basis of population.

Kabul, the most populous province, will have 33 deputies. Panjshir, Nimrooz and Nooristan, the nation's more sparsely populated provinces, will have only two each.

Nationwide, nearly 3,000 candidates have registered to seek seats in the Wolesi Jirga. The Joint Electoral Management Body, JEMB, reports that 338 of those candidates, or more than 10 per cent, are women.

So what happens if the top female candidate in Panjshir, with just two delegates, finishes tenth?

She would win a legislative seat, while nine male candidates ahead of her are eliminated, according to the JEMB rules. If the top vote getter in such a case is a man, the two-women-per-province rule would be waived, board spokesman Sultan Ahmad Bahin told IWPR.

"This isn't democracy," said Sayed Mohammad Amin Arif, acting head the National Unity Movement, Hezb-e-Tahrik-e-Wahadat-e-Milli.

Arif and others also pointed out that more than 60 parties, ranging from the far left to extremely conservative Islamic parties, are fielding candidates.

Yet voters will see only lists of candidates' names. And since a majority of Afghans cannot read, the names will be accompanied by arbitrarily assigned symbols, such as tires and toothbrushes.

"Nobody will know what a candidate stands for because the party affiliation won't be listed on the ballot," said Arif.

Abdul Raqib Jawid Kohistani said his Hezb-e-Nahzat-e-Azadi wa Democracy-e-Afghanistan party, Freedom and Democracy Movement of Afghanistan, repeatedly asked the election board to show candidates' party affiliation on the ballots.

“We and several other parties asked the commission to choose a more equitable system, but they didn’t agree," he told IWPR.

“It's not a legitimate system," said Jawid Kohistani. "It benefits the gangs and drug smugglers because they have enough money to get the votes.”

Independent candidates such as Shukria Barekzai defended the no-party rule, however, on the grounds that it was used during the presidential election last year and voters were familiar with it.

Ten Wolesi Jirga seats are also reserved for Kuchis, the country's nomadic minority. Each province will have at least one polling station where Kuchis will select their own candidates. Three of the ten must be women.

Voters on election day will also choose representatives to their provincial councils, which will vary in size from nine to 29 members depending on population. Twenty-five per cent of each council is to be made up of women.

While the election board was pleased with the female turnout of national legislative candidates, proportionally fewer women stood for election to the regional bodies, said Bahin.

In some provinces, there were no women candidates at all, so some seats in those councils will remain unfilled, he said.

There are more than 3,000 candidates for the provincial councils, but only 279 of them are women.

Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.

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