National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel)

BANTAY NG BAYAN

The Wolesi Jirga

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The Wolesi Jirga (“House of the People”) — equivalent to the Philippines’ House of Representatives — is Afghanistan’s lower chamber tasked to making laws for the country. Members of the Wolesi Jirga — 249 in all, with 64 reserved seats for females and 10 for Kuchis (nomads) — have five-year terms.

In September 2005, through the system of single non-transferable vote, Afghans first elected their district representatives, “a wide variety of backgrounds, expertise, ideological values and personal histories—including a number of prominent ex-mujahiddin leaders, ex-communist politicians, democrats, journalists and teachers,” as one report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit report it. Through the Wolesi Jirga, the major ethnic groups in the country — the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks — all have representatives in the government, albeit not equally. In the beginning, the winning members of the Jirga were unofficially classified as pro-government, opposition, and a small percentage as “independent.” As the next election draws near though, more and more members running for re-election have been coming out expressly identifying themselves as opposition to the Karzai government that has become unpopular. Many observers believe this move towards being the opposition is a positive step as it could provide check and balances (indeed, some of Karzai’s decrees lately were opposed by the Wolesi Jirga), but one wonders if the stance would hold after election day.

On September 18, the Afghan people will again vote to elect the 249 members of the Wolesi Jirga. More than 2,500 candidates, including 400 women and 50 Kuchis, will contest the elections. This number has already been trimmed as candidates with supposed ties to insurgents were disqualified through a system of complaints reception and evaluation that started when the preliminary list of candidates was released.

The coming election has been fraught with many challenges. The security situation has, to say the least, severely reduced the mobility of the candidates and their campaign teams. Moreover, it has even resulted to deaths, as the Taliban, as well as bandits reportedly claiming to be Taliban, have targeted candidates (especially women candidates), campaign teams, and the election administration, in recent attacks. Due to the security situation, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) identified 3,300 less polling stations this year compared to last year’s presidential election. Out of the remaining stations, it was declared that more than 800 will not open on election day, effectively disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters, especially in the remote areas. Lately there have been reports that the Taliban will attack polling places on election day. The Afghan police and the military have been on full alert, patrolling borders and taking measures to prevent the entrance of groups deemed suspicious. Local administrators are reportedly on their toes as well, to make sure that their areas stay safe or else their reputation among their constituents suffer and lose their influence.

Another problem facing election administrators in Afghanistan is the absence of census data, as well as voters’ lists that would have been a basic requirement in most countries holding elections. The IEC held voters registrations across the country to provide voters cards which the voter would need to present in his/her polling station to be able to vote. However, since there are no voters’ lists, the process was left exposed to the possibility of multiple/duplicate voters cards. Candidates were reportedly buying voters cards to distribute to their constituents. A particular concern is the women’s voters cards: since majority of women in Afghanistan refuse to be photographed, they were allowed not to put photos in their cards. Because of this, many women were reportedly able to get multiple voters cards from different registration centers. A voters card can be used on election day in any polling station. A simple system of voters registry for each polling station would have done away with this problem.

(Report filed by Paolo Maligaya, Mazar-e Sharif, northern Afghanistan)

Written by namfrel

September 15, 2010 at 11:32 am

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