By AISS Research Department
**The piece is the first of a few discussing the recently published AISS report entitled “The Challenging Path towards Democracy in Afghanistan: An Assessment and Critique of National Debates on Alternative Political Systems in Afghanistan”. The full report can be accessed from the AISS website.”**
Overview of the recent AISS Report on Alternative political System in Afghanistan
Reform of the political system through changing of the system is one of the demands often discussed but, it became formal after the controversial Presidential elections of 2014 and establishment of the National Unity Government. The purpose of the current research is to highlight all positive and negative viewpoints on changing of the political system and to assess the disparities of the viewpoints. It is obvious that application of any democratic reform within a political system of a country is effective when there exists awareness about who requested the change or reform of current political system, for what purpose and how should we attempt to reforming practices.
As the question on changing of the political system requires a qualitative response, our research team, in addition to utilizing library resources, has chosen in-depth interviews with around fifty field experts as data collection tools. Given the varieties of opinions on changing the political system and the division of certain political groups as defendants and opponents for changing the system, the research team strived to make sure that the interviewees including the rival groups in discussions are from different groups, parties, ethnics and regions of the country. The interviews were launched at Kabul and six important provinces including; Mazar-e-Sharif, Jowzjan, Bamiyan, Herat, Kandahar and Nengarhar in order to relatively collect opinions from four corners of the country.
After a controversial election process of the year 2014 there was a political agreement on the formation and establishment of the National Unity Government. The current framework of discussion is over the changing and reforming of the political system. Thus as the first question of the research, the interviewees were asked to point out the main factors of the Presidential elections crisis of the year 2014. The responses point out to the role of three factors namely, structural failures, inappropriate behavior of individuals and intervention of foreigners that led the elections to crisis.
However, in response to the question whether the defined political system at the constitutional law had any role in the crisis of the Presidential elections of the year 2014 or not, the respondents were divided into two groups. Some of them relate the problem to the functions and practices of individuals and their approach and way of electoral competition and campaign for obtaining the power. Others consider the problem structural and point out the defects of the political system. Generally, one can conclude that the type of a political system is recognized as the source and factor of crisis when the oversighting and monitoring mechanisms and procedures over performances and practices of government entities decline to its minimum. It is argued that centralization and monopoly of powers at one point practically puts the independence of public entities and institutions under question.
Most of the interviewees (29 out of 49), believe that there exist, in the constitutional law, a relative equality of powers among the three branches; the executive, legislative and the judicial but, they are faced with challenges in practice. Breach of the laws by individuals and entities, weak management, lack of cooperation and coordination among the branches and misuse of legitimate powers and authorities by government officials are among the factors disrupting the power balance of all branches of the state. With analysis of all the opinions discussed, it is noticed that the principle of division of powers among the three branches of the state has problems in terms of both the statutory framework and the practices of government officials.
The attitudes and opinions of the interviewees in relation to the status of judicial branch, is another important aspect of the debate about the current political system. Limitation of the independence of the judicial branch with 22 responses; intra-organizational and personal weaknesses of the branch with 19 responses; lack of independence of the judicial branch with 9 responses are respectively of the significant patterns.
Nonetheless, with the statements of the constitutional law on principle of equality of ethnical groups before the laws, the impact of the type of the system on the situation of ethnics is still a significant concern discussed in the opposing viewpoints for formation of the political system of Afghanistan. The interviewees in relation to this matter are categorized into two main groups, defendants of a centralized system and defendants of a decentralized one. Almost half of the interviewees (20 out of 47 responses), believe that a centralized and powerful Presidential political system is appropriate for Afghanistan because it can save the country from division and separation and bring unity among all ethnics. Contrarily, about half of the respondents/interviewees, believe that a powerful centralized governance system is not appropriate for Afghanistan and cannot represent all the ethnics and groups.
In the opinion of most of the interviewees (26 out of 47 responses), the current government has not been able to ensure presence of all representatives of all the ethnical groups in the executive branch of the country. In their belief, the top level officials within the government have been only able to centralize the power, monopolize it and prevent the actual participation of all people at the executive branch through provision of some ethnical and linguistic considerations. In the viewpoints of a quarter of interviewees (14 out of 47 responses), despite the existence of problems with regards to political participation of ethnics, the current political system has ensured the portion of ethnics’ representatives in the executive branch.
Overall, most of the interviewees, rated the current political system unsuccessful in ensuring the political inclusion of all ethnical groups in the executive branch. However, they all are agreed on a point that the system shall ensure the political participation and contribution of all people in the power comprehensively. There also exists consensus of the interviewees that meritocracy is a significant approach for ensuring participation of all ethnics in the executive branch of the state. The point of difference among the opinions of the interviewees is that how and under what procedure we can make the executive branch as a source of service delivery to all people. Changing of the political system for annihilation of centralization of powers and increment of the decision making powers of local administrations is one of the solutions discussed in addition to other reformation approaches in this regard. In this relation, creating and establishing mechanisms that ensure the actual and not symbolic participation of all ethnical groups in power are essential. This would aid the executive branch to take decisions based on the interests of all people of the country and bring about a balance of interests among the ethnics.
With regard to the question of alternative political systems, about half of the interviewees (22 out of 49), believe that currently there doesn’t exist any alternative to the existing political system. In their opinion, the existing political system can become responsive through some reforms like, granting executive authorities to local administration, establishment of a constitutional court and enumeration of the powers of all the three branches of the state. Half of the interviewees (22 out of 49) prefer some other alternative political systems like, Premiership-Presidential system consisting of a President and a Prime Minister, a premiership-Parliamentarian and Parliamentarian-federalism. Decentralization of powers to benefit the local administrations and guaranteeing of political participation of all ethnics are the two reasons this group of interviewees present as the necessity for the change of the system.
While there are differences in the opinions regarding the alternative political systems, it is still debatable whether the required readiness for the change of political system exists in the country or not? Existence of powerful political parties, admitted elites and sufficient human resources are the prerequisites of stabilizing alternative systems. Some people emphasize that prior to changing a political system we need some necessary prerequisites, while others basically ascribes changing of the political system itself as a prerequisite for production of a desirable political situation.
The system and way of conducting elections and the type of voting system in a country are considered among the important issues of the discussion over the political system change. Although the shortcomings of the current method of voting (single non-transferable voting) have been highlighted by many scholars and politicians, it has not been subjected to any meaningful reform yet. A notable number of responses (16 out 40) emphasize that with the current approach and procedure we cannot ensure having a functioning Parliament and active MPs in the Parliament. The second section of responses (which in number of responses is half of the first section) has a positive prospect towards the current system and believes that it is possible to have a functioning Parliament and active MPs with the current approach and procedure. The third section of responses which are equal to the first section, accept the existence of problems within the Parliament and of the current MPs but does not see any effective and operative factors of the current system over these problems, rather questions the way of executing and application of the system in the country.
In this regard, the suggestions emphasize on annihilation of the current voting system (single and non-transferable). In the purposed alternative voting system, it is possible, on one hand, to contextualize for a visible presence of political parties and on the other hand lay some conditions that also enable independent candidates to enter to the Parliament. For this purpose, a proportional voting system is considered appropriate. Some interviewees have emphasized that for creation of powerful and impactful fractions within the Parliament, the current voting system shall be changed to “a single transferrable voting system”.
A centralized system of recruitment of government officials within a Presidential political system is another important aspect of the debate on changing the current political system. Based on analysis of the responses for the question whether ministers and governors have enough authority and independence to perform their duties effectively, two significant matters are revealed. The first matter which includes responses of 21 out of 49 interviewees, states that the existing laws of the country haven’t recognized full independence and self-reliance of these officials. It is considered illegal if they perform their assigned duties independently. The second matter which was supported by 19 interviewees states about ambiguity and no clarity in governors’ authorities, particularly in financial and budgeting affairs.
A large number of responses (29 out of 42 interviewees who responded to the question), emphasize that the constitutional law of the country has guaranteed the base for a comprehensive participation of all people and it is the responsibility of the executive entities of the country to put it in practice. Another group of respondents think that the overall structure of the constitutional law needs to be reformed for paving the ground for public participation. These interviewees emphasize that the constitutional law needs slight reform in some parts. The remaining respondents have an absolute positive viewpoint and believe that the constitutional law of the country has sufficiently provided the ground for political participation of people in the country.
The usefulness or uselessness of political participation of people for political stability of the country, with regards to the current situation which is dominant over the social structures of the country, is one of the arguable matters. In relation to this matter, we have asked the interviewees about the impacts (positive and negative) of increasing the political participation of people in political affairs. In general, the research received 41 responses which are focused on three main issues. The first category that is the view of 30 respondents emphasizes in particular that undoubted and unconditional increment of the political participation of people helps the state in increasing the political stability of the country. The second category which is less in number than the proponents of the first idea and only considers views of 4 respondents designate the success key of the political participation of people in political affairs of country to the type and nature of their participation. This is while one third of the responses do not consider the political and social structure and context of the country in a status that may allow a rational and effective participation of people in political affairs.
Under the assumption that current political parties in Afghanistan have no defined legal identity in elections or the Parliament of the country, we have asked the interviewees what legal frameworks should be created for improvement and efficiency of the roles of political parties. The opinions in this regard are somehow more dispersed than the other questions of the research. Despite the disparities, all the opinions are assessed in four general categories. Among the categories, the discussion has suggested for the improvement of the roles of political parties, the revision of the relevant laws, operational procedures and the roles of political parties in larger political processes. This view is supported by 23 out of 41 responses. The second category which includes one-fourth of all responses has also a similar belief and states that there in the current constitutional law, parties are entitled to sufficient roles and their efficiency relates to the way and quality of their own operations and activities. The third group which is supported 9 interviewees relates the failure in establishing active political parties within the country to the social conditions and states of the country. Some others considered the current government culpable in this regard.
In response to the question that whether the politics in Afghanistan rotates around political issues or individuals, a considerable number of responses (35 out of 43 responses), consider individuals as the rotating point of politics in Afghanistan. On the contrary, a limited number of interviewees believe that important issues and platforms are the bases for politics in Afghanistan, not groups or individuals. Most interviewees believe that Afghanistan is a country where its social structure and context is defined with existence of several specific group identities. Ethnic, language and religious sect are the obvious group identities.
It has been asked that whether an alternative political system can bring more public supports or not? In case of a positive response, it is asked from the interviewees to introduce an alternative system that could have utmost support of the public. A considerable number (including 19 out of 43 responses) of interviewees have consensus that decentralization of political system in the country can bring more supports of the public with it.
The interviewees were questioned whether changing the political system was practically possible or not, and what were the main obstacles in the way of changing the system of the country. They were also questioned if obstacles existed for changing the political system, were these obstacles internal or external. In general 39 respondents reacted to the questions asked. Categorizing of the responses reveal that one-third of the interviewees pointed out to external factors and a two-third of them involved certain internal factors as the obstacles in the way of changing the system. Some comments also emphasized that foreigners should not be blamed for the current political scenario.The first challenge in the path of changing the political system was a lack of an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the alternative options. Most of the people and maybe a large number of those who today claim that alternative political system was beneficial for the country, do not know what are the characteristics and identifiers and possible impacts of an alternative system.
The respondents who were somehow proponents of changing the political system were asked to explain their purposed model or sample of political systems. In this regard, out of the 43 interviewees who responded to the question, 22 referred to the political systems of foreign countries as the alternative models and patterns. While 11 respondents criticized the approach and said that every context requires its own model. The remaining respondents mentioned the previous political systems of Afghanistan as better alternative models. In the opinions of the interviewees, the current political systems of some countries like, Germany, Australia, France, Lebanon, India, Turkey, Pakistan and Britain were appropriate models for Afghanistan.
Another question posed at the interviewees was that if a practical decision was taken for the change of the political system, which approach was the best. For better clarification of the question, four optional assumptions were provided to the interviewees which are mentioned below:
- Changing the laws for more decentralization with keeping the current Constitution (13 interviewees supported this option)
- Convention of Constitutional Loya Jirga and amendment of the Constitution and political system (18 interviewees supported this option)
- Convention of traditional Loya Jirga and change of government leaders (7 interviewees supported this option)
- Allow the President to continue ruling with issuance of executive order (None of the interviewees supported this option)
The last question of the research focuses on positive or negative impacts of both centralization and decentralization. In this relation, we have questioned that if it was decided to introduce one of these systems in the country, what impacts would the change have on security, development, economy and eventually the public administration of the country. In this regard, most of the responses (30 out of 40) point to the positive impacts of decentralization. On a different vein, some interviewees have stated their opinions about positive characteristics of centralization. Most of them pointed to the capability of a centralized system in ensuring security and peace as its positive impacts. Their argument is that with regard to the unfavorable situation of the country, the leadership of all the security forces must be single otherwise, there would emerge anarchy among the security and defense forces of the country.
Zalmai Nishat is an AISS Research Fellow. Mohammad Irfani and Abdul Ahad Mohammadi are Researchers at AISS.
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The article does not reflect the official opinion of the AISS.