Afghanistan lacks the sinews to move forward as a democracy
By Farhad Arian
Wednesday, 27 March 2011
Source: ON LINE opinion – Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate
This paper aims to evaluate the factors that have significantly undermined the establishment and development of democratic political parties in post-2001 Afghanistan. The paper particularly argues that the lack of capacity in the government of Afghanistan, the lack of democratic organizational strength in Afghan political parties and the negative public perception of parties have contributed to the failure of the Afghan government to establish a democratic two-party or multi-party system. Therefore, Afghanistan still remains a partly democracy with no democratic political parties.
Following the collapse of the Taliban in late 2001, Afghanistan experienced a rapid democratization process in terms of enacting new laws and establishing democratic institutions. However, regardless of the recognition of democracy as an issue of central importance by the international community, in the post-2001 period, the Afghan government paid no attention to providing the ground for establishing democratic political parties.
In the post-Taliban era, the government of Afghanistan has not only failed to provide the legal, financial and technical grounds for establishing and developing democratic political parties, but also ignored the importance of founding a democratic two-party or multi-party system. As a result of the ignorance of political parties in the last nine y ears, Afghanistan still is a partly democracy with no democratic political parties.
Inability of the Afghan government in enforcing laws
The lack of ability of the government of Afghanistan to enforce national laws has undermined the establishment as well as the development of democratic political parties in the post-Taliban era.
While both the Afghan Constitution of 2004 and the Political Parties Law of 2003 provide the legal ground for establishing democratic political parties, the failure of the Afghan government in enforcing laws has paved the way for the establishment of those political parties that are not democratic and nationwide.
Therefore, despite the requirements of the Afghan Constitution and the Political Parties Law that forbid the establishment of racial, ethnic, religious, and language-based parties, most political parties in today's Afghanistan derive support alongside the lines of ethnicit y, race, language, and religion.
In addition to the lack of capacity in the Afghan government in enforcing laws, Afghan Constitution does not particularly oblige the government to establish a democratic two-party or multi-party system. Likewise, the Afghan Election Law provides for the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) system that undermines the role of political parties in the national elections.
As such, the silence of Afghan legal frameworks towards establishing a democratic two-party or multi-party system has provided religious leaders, Communist movements, ethnic group elites, individual intellectuals, warlords, and tribal elders with an exceptional opportunity to establish their own political parties rather than founding democratic nationwide parties.
As a result, in the last nine years, both the Afghan government and legal frameworks in their own have been two barriers, challenging the establishment of a democratic two-party or multi-party system.
Lack of organizational strength and transparent financial sources
In the post-Taliban era, Afghan political parties have been in the lack of democratic organizational strength for establishing a two-party or multi-party system. This is because Afghan political parties are mostly remained fragile, fragmented and non-democratic in the post-Bonn period. Although Afghan political parties claim that they represent the democratization process of the country, no political party democratically represents the people of Afghanistan because they are established along the lines of ethnicity, language, race and religion rather than being nationwide representatives of the Afghan people.
Therefore, while Afghan political parties neither have a national political agenda nor represent the Afghan people, in the post-Taliban era, political parties are rema ined non-democratic and fragile in terms of their organizational structures.
In addition to the lack of organizational strength, Afghan political parties lack transparent financial sources. Despite the legal requirements that forbid political parties from receiving foreign funding, in the last nine years, Afghan political parties have never paid attention to the legal restrictions of national laws, and as such, political parties have been regularly receiving foreign funding.
Both foreign funding and the inability of the Afghan government in monitoring financial sources of Afghan political parties have contributed to a situation where most of parties are the representatives of overseas political, military and religious organizations rather than the representatives of the people of Afghanistan.
Therefore, the lack of transparent funding has not only undermined any attempts of political parties in fin ancing themselves through democratic ways of membership fees and financial contribution of Afghan citizens, but also contributed to the failure of establishing a democratic two-party or multi-party system.
Negative public perception of political parties
Negative public perception of Afghan political parties has also contributed to the failure of establishing a democratic two-party or multi-party system. The reason behind the negative public perception of political parties in Afghanistan is their strong association with Islamic groups, Communist movements and ethnic group nationalists that are mostly blamed for their destructive role in the long-term conflict and civil war of the country.
Therefore, the majority of the people of Afghanistan are mostly critics of political parties to further do not see political parties as stabilizing forces and the representatives of the democratization process. As such, the Afghan government in the last nine years has politically benefited from the negative public perception of political parties and consequently has never tried to pave wa y for establishing democratic political parties for the intention of founding a political party system in the country.
However, the younger generation of Afghanistan sees political parties as stabilizing forces rather than destabilizing factors in strengthening the democratization process of the country. Apart from the positive perception of political parties among the younger generation of Afghanistan, in the post-Bonn era, both the government and the parliament of Afghanistan have been dominated by a generation of politicians who do not believe in the democratic role of political parties in the political future of Afghanistan.
As a result, in the post-2001 era, neither the government of Afghanistan nor the Afghan parliament paid significant attention to provide the ground for founding a democratic two-party or multi-party system.
In conclusion, the lack of capacity in the Afghan government to enforce national laws, the lack of organizational strength in the Afghan political parties, and the negative public perception of political parties have contributed to the failure of establishing a democratic two-party or multi-party system in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
It is, therefore, important for the international community to force the Afghan government to politically, financially and technically provide the ground for establishing nationwide and democratic political parties for the intention of founding a democratic two-party or multi-party system. If not doing so, Afghan democracy is like a dream tha t would never come true without national democratic political parties.
About the Author
Farhad Arian is a former Deputy Director of the Office of Human Rights and Women’s International Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. Prior to joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was a Legal Consultant to the General-Directorate of the National Radio/Television of Afghanistan. Farhad Arian is currently undertaking a Master of Arts in International Affairs at the Australian National University (ANU).
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