Afghanistan was supposed to hold its next parliamentary elections this May, but those were postponed until the fall for security, logistical and financial reasons.
The Afghan government relies heavily on foreign donors to pay for elections and provide technical support. Following a succession of corruption scandals and a fraud-plagued presidential election last year, Afghanistan was far behind on raising the funds necessary for a May poll as wary donors waited for signs of meaningful reform from Kabul. In January, the government announced it would delay the elections until September 18.
The United Nations and members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force welcomed the delay, which they had been pushing for. The international community had feared spring elections would coincide with major military operations in Afghanistan’s south and be marred by widespread violence and delegitimizingly low participation.
Preparations for the September elections hit a political snag in March, when the president issued a decree changing the composition of Afghanistan’s elections watchdog, the Electoral Complaints Commission. The decree gave the president the power to appoint all five members of the ECC. Previously, three of the commissioners had been appointed by the UN, one by the Supreme Court, and one by the Independent Election Commission, a governmental body accused of favoring the incumbent president last August.
Former UN senior political adviser Gerard Russell described the decree as “a terrible blow to the intended legacy of the 2001 invasion – fair elections, democratic institutions and a constitutional government.”
Under pressure from the international community, Karzai reversed his decision and agreed that the UN could appoint two members of the ECC after all. At a March 23 press conference, new UN Special Representative Staffan de Mistura said that the UN representatives would have “a very strong say inside the commission.”
Then, on March 31, the Afghan parliament overwhelmingly rejected the election law decree, voiding it with a sea of red “no” voting cards. “It showed that no one is prepared to accept this election decree and that we want more transparent elections and we cannot accept something that the president has decided on his own,” said Shukria Barakzai, an MP who backed Karzai during the 2009 presidential election.
Donors are still hesitant contribute funds for the parliamentary elections, and with major NATO offensives expected in the coming months, doubts persist about the ability of Afghans in the southern provinces to participate, the protection of candidates –especially women candidates—and the ability of independent observers to monitor the polls on election day.