Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Provincial Candidates Running in the Dark

Most council candidates have no idea of what’s involved in the political office they are seeking.
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi

More than 3,000 candidates are chasing seats on the country's 34 provincial councils, but many of them do not much idea what their powers or responsibilities will be if they are elected.

It is hardly their fault. The law detailing the tasks facing the nation's 420 councillors has only just emerged in public, barely two weeks before the September 18 election.

It was only signed into law by President Hamed Karzai on August 21, weeks after the deadline for the 3,025 hopefuls – a quarter of them women - to register as candidates.

Copies of the law are still not available in many of the provinces.

Professor Abdul Kabir Ranjbar, president of the Lawyers Union of Afghanistan, told IWPR that candidates had to put themselves forward without having any real understanding of their responsibilities if elected.

“The law should have been available to candidates and everyone else prior to the registration process, so that they would have seen what their responsibilities will be in the councils,” he said.

One candidate, Maulavi Abdul Rahman Ansari, who is standing for Kabul provincial council – the biggest in the country, with 29 seats - said he had just read the law, but that it should have been available before now so that people knew what was expected of them.

“People made me put myself forward as a candidate, so I nominated myself - but without having enough information about provincial councils since there was no law,” he said.

The councillors will have wide-ranging responsibilities, including overseeing local administration in areas such as social, economic, health and education policy, and taking local concerns to the provincial governor to raise with central government.

One task set out in the 20-article law could be particularly contentious: Councillors are expected to coordinate with central government to eradicate poppy-growing and opium-smuggling by which many rural people - their constituents - make their living.

Council members will also have a key role in creating the Meshrano Jirga, or upper house of parliament. Each provincial council - even the smallest, with just nine seats - will elect one member to the upper chamber – and these seats will account for one-third of the 102-member assembly. Another third of seats will be elected from district councils, and President Karzai will appoint the final 34 members.

The upper chamber is expected to act as a link between provinces and the parliament, the lower house of which is also being elected on September 18. Its principal function is to review legislation sent to it by the Wolesi Jirga, or lower chamber.

Ranjbar said he believed provincial councils could play an effective role in making central government comprehend ordinary people's problems, and at the same time help spread respect for national laws by being close to the people.

It was impossible to implement law purely by government decrees, he said.

“The councils can make people aware of laws by holding meetings in various traditional ways. And when people realise the importance of law, it will be implemented more completely," he added.

Analysts say that village elders, who traditionally handled problems at a local level, have a good chance of being elected to provincial and district councils because of their standing in the community. Their presence should augment the respect that people accord to the councils, and the elders' years of experience will also be an asset.

Given the late publication of the law, candidates will have to make do until they can get a copy.

Justice ministry legal expert Sayed Yousef Halim said there were technical problems behind the delay in publishing the law, but the information ministry was trying to ensure that its content is publicised in all provinces.

Once the provincial councils are formed, representatives will definitely have access to copies of the law, he said.

In the northern Balkh province, council candidate Mohammad Sardar Sayedi said he had just heard on the radio that a law on councils had been ratified – but he had not seen it yet.

“I only know that the provincial council is responsible for overseeing the activities of local government… I thought provincial councils had the same authority as the Wolesi Jirga has to oversee the central government before I heard something about the law,” he said.

Lack of legal detail is not going to deter Haji Mohammad Yousuf, a council candidate in the northwestern Sar-e-Pul province.

"I don't have any information about the council law, though I have just heard on radio that such a thing has been ratified. But I will still run for election. Once I'm elected I'm sure I will have access to the law,” he said.

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.

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