Afghanistan legislative election results

The results of September’s election for the Afghanistan legislature finally have been released. From the CSM:

Early analyses of the final results show that the Hazara community may have snagged a share of the lower house that represents as much as double their actual proportion of the population.

In Ghazni, the last remaining constituency to be counted, preliminary results indicated that all 11 seats went to Hazara candidates, even though the province has a slim majority of Pashtuns with significant Hazara and Tajik minorities. […]

Wardak province also saw a surge in Hazara representation. Though the region is predominately home to Pashtuns, three of the five seats went to Hazaras.

The story emphasizes the impact of violence on the lack of ethnic proportionality: if turnout by Pashtuns was lower due to their regions being more violent, then other groups would be over-represented.

While violence may well be the main factor, it is worth remembering that the electoral system is single nontransferable vote (SNTV), which is not a proportional system. If Pashtuns had their votes less efficiently distributed across their candidates than did other ethnic groups, for whatever reason, then the result could be disproportional regardless of turnout differentials.

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Afghanistan legislative elections, 2010

This Saturday Afghanistan holds its second legislative elections since the US invasion. Like the 2005 elections, these will be held with the electoral system that always appears near the bottom of electoral-system experts’ rankings of “best” system: the single nontransferable vote (SNTV).

Under SNTV, the winners are simply the candidates with the top M vote totals, regardless of their party (if any), where M is the magnitude of the district (the number of seats it has in the legislature). Afghanistan has a wide range of M; I have not seen if the magnitudes have been adjusted since 2005, but in that election, districts had anywhere from 4 to 33 seats each, with an average of around 7.*

In 2005, there were no party names or symbols on the ballots. In fact, there were no officially recognized parties at all. Since then, a political parties law has been passed, but a mere five parties have gained the official right to have their symbols on the ballots. So only a tiny minority of candidates will be identified by their party affiliation; the rest will be effectively independent candidates, regardless of whether they in fact have a party affiliation. See Thomas Ruttig at the FP for detail about the parties and the registration process.

Given that SNTV is a party-less electoral system in terms of the process of seat allocation, one could wonder what additional value party labels on the ballot would offer. To vote in SNTV, for any party that has more than one candidate in the district, the voter must know the candidate that he or she favors. Compared to any proportional representation system that uses party lists, or a first-past-the-post system that uses single-seat districts, knowing the partisan identity of candidates is relatively less important.

Key facts about the political consequences of SNTV are:

1. SNTV puts a premium on personal connections (e.g. being a local notable of any kind) rather than party reputation; and

2. SNTV practically guarantees tiny margins of votes between the last few winners in a district and the first few losers, especially in districts electing more than about 5 or 6 seats.

In other words, whether candidates are identified as party nominees or not, it is personal reputations that count above all else. Those personal reputations could be derived from incumbency if the member has stood above others in delivering services or benefits to the region, or from outside electoral politics, such as from being tied to (or being) a local warlord or chieftan. Or it could be a reputation from business or some other pursuit outside politics. What SNTV does not reward, in general, are candidates who try to provide broad public goods or run on ideological appeals.

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* There is a gender quota, which does not fundamentally alter the dynamic of SNTV; it mere stipulates that a minimum number of the winners must be women, even if some men had higher vote totals. In a sense, it is two parallel SNTV contests in each district, with one of them reserved for women.

Donor consensus: SNTV bad for Afghanistan

Democracy International, a DC-area contractor that implements democracy assistance programs around the world, late last month released 34 “Consensus Recommendations for Electoral Reform in Afghanistan.”

According to the report, these 34 items are “the major points of consensus among Afghan civil society organizations, international observer missions, assistance organizations, and independent election experts.” Notable actors included various UN bodies, ANFEL, the local AREU, various EU groups, IFES, NDI, the OSCE, and so forth. If you want to see all 437 recommendations that those groups made, visit DI’s Afghanistan website.

Recommendation number one:

The use of the SNTV system should be reconsidered: There is broad agreement that the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) system impedes the development of political parties and prevents fair and accurate representation of Afghanistan’s diverse population. A public consultative process should take place to solicit the opinions of relevant Afghan actors and international election experts to determine the best alternative system for Afghanistan. One alternative which has been consistently presented is a mixed SNTV-proportional system.

Afghanistan clearly does not host a model party system. Yet I wonder whether the ‘strong’ parties that might result from more party-centric electoral rules would be all that great. If, for example, closed-list PR turns divided societies’ elections into “national identity referenda,” would programmatic coherence and party discipline be such great ideas?

It’s nice to see consensus emerging on some form of system that retains a role for the personal vote, whether through an SNTV tier as alluded to above, or maybe through OLPR, as belatedly used in Iraq. This is because I believe that most voters prefer moderates to extremists. Therefore, when a country’s best organized political leaders are extremists, institutions should be used to diminish their control over ballot access and rank.

The verdict on this theory, of course, is still out, but I’m working on it.

Modifying SNTV in Afghanistan?

IFES reports that there is an ongoing legislative debate about possible changes to the single nontransferable vote (SNTV) system used to elect the Afghanistan congress in 2005.

The draft law proposes a maximum district magnitude of 10 and to include party symbols on the ballot beside candidates’ names. In 2005, the magnitudes ranged from 2 to 33 and there were no party names or symbols indicated. Quite apart from the question of whether a change from SNTV would be advisable, these are very sensible proposed changes within SNTV.

The article also notes that there are discussions of a shift to proportional representation (presumably open list) and that there has been some consideration of MMP.

Afghanistan and 2008 US presidential politics

Six more Canadian soldiers were killed yesterday in Afghanistan while riding in a “mine-resistant vehicle.”

Meanwhile, BBC World Service ran a radio documentary this morning about rampant corruption in Afghanistan. Police jobs are auctioned, because people are willing to pay to get in for the graft opportunities. The corruption may be driving more people to support Taliban insurgents. For all their brutality, the Taliban is remembered for being relatively clean, the BBC reported.

With the ever-present possibility of an early election given Canada’s parliamentary system and current minority government, the question of when to bring an end to the Afghanistan commitment is very much a matter of debate between the parties in that country. Yet the operation is almost totally noncontroversial in the US.

Even Bill Richardson, the only candidate among those with some realistic chance of getting the Democratic nomination who is calling for a complete withdrawal from Iraq–“no residual bases left behind” –calls for increasing the US role in Afghanistan:

We must redeploy some of our troops to Afghanistan to stop the resurgence of the Taliban and to fight the real terrorists who attacked this country on 9-11.

That was a defensible position in 2004. Is it still in 2007?

Will any contender for the leadership of the USA dare suggest moving towards closure to the open-ended commitment in Afghanistan? Don’t count on it. Not even Dennis Kucinich mentions Afghanistan prominently on his issues page. Mike Gravel at least mentions it, sort of in passing, in the context of opposing military action against Iran (which he makes his second issue after Iraq). There appears to be almost total consensus that the commitment is worth continuing. Maybe it is, but it might be nice to debate the question.

Afghanistan: Amnesty bill and party-formation updates

About two months ago, I posed the question, will Karzai veto the Jihadis’ amnesty bill? It was a reference to a bill to provide a sweeping amnesty to former fighters in Afghanistan’s decades of fighting, passed by a congress largely dominated by former fighters themselves. President Hamid Karzai opposed the amnesty, as did international aid organizations. With his office having the constitutional authority to veto legislation, it seemed unlikely that the legislators’ act would be the final word. (A veto takes two thirds to override, although my reading of the constitution is that the override vote takes place only in the lower house, notwithstanding the bicameral nature of the Afghanistani congress.)

Indeed, congress did not have the final word. But that is not to say that Karzai vetoed the bill. Instead, he recommended amendments to some provisions, and congress passed a new bill that incorporated his suggestions–or some of then; details are sketchy in the several sources I consulted. Deep within an LA Times story, it is noted:

[Karzai’s] office managed to add the provision about an individual’s right to file charges, amending what was virtually a blanket amnesty.

Separation of powers at work.

In previous discussions, I have noted how unrepresentative the Afghan congress is, given that it was elected in a purely candidate-based system (single nontransferable vote), with no party labels, and with a very high rate of wasted votes. A recent item in The Economist picks up on the theme of the party-less legislative process, and notes that parties are now forming from within the congress.

IN THE 18 months since it was elected, Afghanistan’s first democratic legislature has been in a peculiar limbo: it is a parliament without parties. Candidates were not allowed to declare party affiliations on the ballot paper. The result has been a chaotic parliament of individuals, often elected on the promise of patronage and by virtue of ethnic affiliation. The parliament has criticised the increasingly isolated president, Hamid Karzai. But its positive achievements have been few.

Now change is stirring. Several alliances with sketchy political platforms are being mooted. The first of these, the National Unity Front, was unveiled in March by a group of parliamentarians and members of the government. It proposes various constitutional reforms, including electing provincial governors directly and creating a new post of prime minister in order to curb the power of the president. The Front denies wanting to be an opposition party, promising to work alongside the government in pursuit of “national unity”. [read full article]

Both of these developments represent advances for the constitutional and legislative processes in that war-torn country.

Will Karzai veto the jihadis’ amnesty?

28 Feb.: Corrected

With the Afghan congress having passed an amnesty bill, all eyes are on President Karzai as he considers whether to issue a veto. The Afghan presidency has a veto on legislation that can be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in each the lower house of congress.*

The bill passed the upper house with more than a 75% support (50-16). However, despite considerable searching on both Google and Lexis Nexis, I was unable find a report of the vote in the lower house, except that it was by “majority” (obviously). Thus I am uncertain whether the lower house would have the two-thirds vote needed to override a veto.

I did, however, find an interesting transcript of a debate on Afghan Aina TV (via BBC Monitoring Service, 21 Feb., 2007), including this remark in support of the bill by Haji Abda, an MP from Balkh Province. The Moderator asked about international–specifically Human Rights Watch–opposition to the bill. The MP responded:

Those friends believe that jihadi leaders do not have a suitable status and are rights violators. When one looks at the election results, you will see how much respect these jihadi leaders enjoy amongst the people. When these objectors are asked as to how they entered parliament, then the problem will automatically be resolved. Those who entered parliament with majority of votes mean that the people elected them, but they say the people do not want them. If the people did not want them, why they voted for them?

I can’t deny the MP’s claim that the warlords and Jihadis and their allies who have seats are personally popular. But, of course, the idea that Jihadis in the Afghan parliament have majority support is a bit suspect, given the low turnout, and the small votes shares members received, thanks to the SNTV electoral system.

Abda himself won a whopping 3.7% of the vote in Balkh, where he was sixth of ten candidates elected. More than two thirds of the votes cast in Balkh did not go towards the election of any candidate.

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* Apparently, while both houses must give their approval before a bill is presented to the president for his signature or veto, an override vote takes place only in the lower house. At least that is how I read the provisions on legislation in the constitution:

Article 94 [Legislation, Veto, Qualified Vote]
(1) Law is what both Houses of the National Assembly approve and the President endorses unless this Constitution states otherwise.
(2) In case the President does not agree to what the National Assembly approves, he or she can send the document back with justifiable reasons to the House of Representatives [Wolesi Jirga] within fifteen days of its submission.
(3) With the passage of this period or in case the House of Representatives [Wolesi Jirga] approves a particular case again with a majority of two-thirds votes, the bill is considered endorsed and enforced.