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Afghanistan: Date Set for Parliamentary and District Council Elections

(Aug. 4, 2017) The Afghanistan Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has announced that July 7, 2018, will be National Election Day and that on that day Afghans will elect their representatives to the House of Representatives (Wolesi Jirga, House of the People) of the National Assembly and to the country’s district councils. (Afghanistan Pa 2018 Kal Ke Parlamani Takani Kawe [Afghanistan Is to Conduct Parliamentary Elections in 2018], VOICE OF AMERICA Pashto (Saratan 01, 1396 [June 22, 2017]).) The announcement comes two years after the date on which a new parliament was legally supposed to start work, on July 6, 2015. (Da Afghanistan Parlamani Takani Ratlonkay Kaw Kege [The Afghanistan Parliamentary Election Is Next Year], BBC Pashto (June 22, 2017).) 

Background

Due to the significant controversy surrounding and the acrimony between the two leading candidates in Afghanistan’s 2014 elections, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the current President of Afghanistan, and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s current Chief Executive, the parliamentary elections set to occur that year were postponed from their theoretical date. According to article 83 of the Constitution, parliamentary elections are to be held within 30 to 60 days before the end of the term of the current parliamentary session, which was June 22, 2015. (The Constitution of Afghanistan, 1382 [2004], art. 83, AFGHANISTAN ONLINE (click on Chapter Five – The National Assembly to view).) As the Chief Executive, Abdullah was strongly in favor of bringing changes to the election commissions and to the electoral system as a whole.  Disagreements over the key positions in the government and the worsening security situation in Afghanistan were other reasons that directly, adversely affected the possibility of conducting a transparent and free election. (Da Afghanistan Parlamani Takani Ratlonkay Kal Kege, supra.)

Last year, President Ghani announced that the parliamentary elections and elections for the district councils would be held in 2018. (Ghani: Parlamani Takani Ba Ratlonke Kal Ke Tar Sara She [Ghani: Parliamentary Elections Is Conducting Next Year], DEUTSCHE WELLE Pashto (Dec. 29, 2015).)

The election for the current members of the House of Representatives was held on September 18, 2010; these elections, too, had been postponed, for three months and 26 days from the original date of the elections set for May 22, 2010. (Malgaro Milatono, Kanada, aw America Da Parlmani Takano Da Zandido Da Prekree Malatarr Wakarr [UN, Canada, and U.S. Support the Decision of Postponing the Parliamentary Elections], PAHJWOK AFGHAN NEWS (Jan. 1, 2010).)

Legal Basis for Holding of House Elections

The Constitution of Afghanistan establishes the beginning and end dates for the term of the House of Representatives. It says that the “mandate [of the house of the representative] ends on the 1st of Saratan of the fifth year after the elections, and the new assembly starts its work.” The Constitution further clarifies, as was noted above, that “[t]he election of the members of the Wolesi Jirga shall be held within 30 to 60 days before the expiry of the term of the Wolesi Jirga.” (The Constitution of Afghanistan, art. 83.)

In Afghanistan, the Wolesi Jirga has a total of 250 seats, 239 of which are allocated to representatives of people in the provinces, ten others to representatives of the Kuchi (nomadic people), and the remaining one seat to the representative of Sikh followers. (Election Law (2016), art. 48, Ministry of Justice of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan website.) According to the Election Law, the IEC allocates the number of seats among the 239 total to each province based on the provincial population. (Id. art. 49). In a constituency, a candidate is considered to have won the seat when he/she receives the majority of votes among all candidates; if two candidates receive the same number of votes, the IEC decides the winner based on the person’s education and work experience in governmental and non-governmental organizations. (Id. art. 50.)

The members of district councils are elected for three-year terms. The number of district council members is assigned proportionally to the population of each district. For example, districts with up to 40,000 population have five seats;, with up to 70,000 population, seven seats; with up to 100,000 population, nine seats; and with over 100,000 population, 11 seats. Furthermore, in every district council, 25% of the seats must be given to female candidates. (Id. art. 61.)

According to the Election Law, the IEC is responsible for declaring the election date 180 days ahead of an election and for publishing the calendar of the election 120 days ahead of the election date. (Id. art. 71.) The candidates for the Wolesi Jirga have 20 days to conduct their electoral campaigns; district council candidates campaign for 15 days. The campaigns for both types of elections must end 48 hours prior to the start of the election. (Id. arts. 76 & 79.)

The IEC announced the elected members of the current House of Representatives on October 31, 2010. (Da Walesi Jergi Da Takano Wrostay Paile Elan Shwe [The Final Result of the Wolesi Jerga Elections Announced], BBC Pashto (Nov. 24, 2010).)

Reactions to the IEC Announcement

The Election and Transparency Watch Organization for Afghanistan (ETWA) welcomed the IEC declaration of the parliamentary election date. ETWA suggests that to achieve transparent elections, all necessary reforms necessary in order to conduct elections without fraud should be considered and implemented.  (Afghanistan Pa 2018 Kal Ke Parlamani Takani Kawe, supra.)  ETWA further asked the Independent Election Commission to make sure that the election process for the upcoming elections will be transparent and to pave the way for mass participation in them, and thereby regain the lost trust of the public in the election process. (Id.)

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also welcomed the announcement of the date for the parliamentary and district elections. Tadamishi Yamamoto, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that Afghans have made clear their desire for credible, inclusive elections, adding: “[w]e welcome the IEC’s commitment to a realistic date for holding parliamentary and district council elections, and to an improved and transparent electoral process.” (Press Release, UNAMA, UNAMA Welcomes Announcement of Date for Parliamentary and District Council Elections (June 22, 2017).)

The Office of the Chief Executive of the National Unity Government (NUG) also welcomed the announcement of the elections date. In a statement, the Office said that this is a step toward the implementation of the commitments of the NUG, and now the government is obliged to provide the IEC with all the support that it needs.  (Reiasate Ejraia Wa FEFA Az Mushakhas Shudan-e Tarikh-e Barguzari-e Intikhabat-e Wolesi Jerga Istiqbal Karda And [The Chief Executive Office and FEFA Welcomed the Announcement of Parliamentary Elections Date,] PAJHWOK NEWS (June 23, 2017) (in Dari).)

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) declared in a statement that the government should pay attention to (1) the technical processes of the elections, (2) the prevention of unwarranted intervention in the electoral process, and (3) the independence of the commissions. FEFA furthers suggests that the government should provide all financial and logistical means to the IEC necessary for carrying out the elections.

Prepared by Hijratullah Ekhtyar, Law Library intern, under the supervision of Tariq Ahmad, Foreign Law Specialist