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.
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.
* 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 eachthe 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.
* 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.
(The Joint Electoral Management Body has a terrific photo gallery.)
The legislative elections in Afghanistan were held on September 18, but the results were not released until a few days ago. With the help of a map offered by the Joint Electoral Management Body, and the slightly easier to read format of the results posted by Adam Carr, the following is a selective analysis of the results. (For background on the electoral system–SNTV–and other aspects of the campaign, please see my Afghanistan subdomain.)
Analyzing the results and their possible national policy-making significance is difficult due to the absence of any real party system. What I want to highlight is the votes breakdown by candidate, given that this is an SNTV system, to see the extent to which my expectation about how this system would perform in the Afghan context proved correct. In a previous post on the elections I noted:
Was that the case? I will take a few provinces, semi-randomly (but including districts of different sizes and from different parts of the country), and take a closer look. My intention is not to perform a scientific analysis, but rather just to get an overview of the results. In this sense, what I will do here is similar to what I did on Liberia in two posts on November 11 and 12.
First, a note about the rules. It is SNTV (first M past the post, where M is the district magnitude), but with a proviso. 25% of the elected legislators were required by law to be women, so one or more male candidates who ranked among the top M vote-getters might be skipped to ensure that the requisite number of female candidates would be elected.
In each of the provinces that I survey, I will give some votes percentages in the following order: Top winner, last elected without gender quota, any women elected only due to gender quota [in brackets], and first two losers.
So, the expectation was largely confirmed. The margins between the last winner and first two losers tend to be small. The overall results are very fragmented, with a fairly typical result being that one candidate is well ahead of the rest of the field. Yet even the leading candidate has a small vote share in most cases. The largest vote share I saw was just over 35% and only a few had over 20% of their respective province. Such candidates, of course, are clearly local notables or even ‘warlords.’ Still, an advantage of SNTV over FPTP (as in Liberia’s lower house) is that other candidates aside from the strongest locally can be elected, and an advantage over PR is that these warlords’ own personal votes elect only themselves rather than a list of candidates. (Of course, if they have sufficient organization, they might be able to coordinate their supporters to divide their votes among several affiliated candidates; from just looking at results by candidate, with no party labels available, it is not possible to tell the extent to which this might have happened.)
It is well worth noting that the smaller-magnitude districts had some tendency to have both a leading candidate with a non-neglible vote share and trailing candidates who were farther behind the last winner than is the case in the larger districts. Take, for example, Kunar, where there is a clear fall-off between the last winner and first loser (ignoring the gender quota). The first loser in Bamyan just missed, but the next one is much farther back. (Yes, to call 2 percentage points “much farther back” is odd, but in this context, it is also accurate.)
The smaller magnitude districts, thus, appear to have had somewhat better coordination than the large ones, just as we would expect under SNTV. Larger magnitudes compound the low-information problem of a first election and a party-less campaign. Kabul shows the lack of information about which trailing candidates were in the running, with the last winner (before gender quota) at only two hundredths ahead of the second loser.
And look at Herat (also a large-magnitude district): the first winner had only 3.6% of the vote!
The two best news reports on the final results that I have seen were by IRN and Pak Tribune.
I do not think this election could have been expected to have the kind of excitement–or turnout–that we saw either in the earlier presidential election, or in the Iraqi elections (outside of the areas where the boycott was effective).
There is no sense in which national power is at stake in these Afghan elections. The president was already elected and has a fixed term, and holds the far more important office under the Afghan constitution.
Because of the electoral system being used, there is no way that voters can select a party that promises to pursue a vision for the nation or even for an ethnic or religious group, as was the case with Iraq’s party-list proportional system.
Instead, voters are voting only for a single candidate among sometimes HUNDREDS running in their district, with no party affiliations listed (or sometimes known). The margin between the last few winners in a district and the first few losers will be tiny.
There really is no way voters can use a system like this to express any kind of mandate or will. All they can do is vote for some local notable. And other than the handful of “most notable” candidates in any province, most of those elected will have really tiny vote shares.
For these reasons, there just is bound to be much less perceived to be at stake than in the Afghan presidential election or the Iraqi assembly elections.
Turnout was significantly lower than in last year’s presidential election won by U.S.-backed incumbent Hamid Karzai. Some analysts blamed the downturn on confusion caused by a vast field of 5,800 candidates, the presence of notorious warlords on the ballot and the slow pace of post-war reconstruction.
Afghanistan’s allies have hailed the vote, but analysts have said the new parliament is likely to be fragmented given that candidates ran as independents rather than on party tickets.
With its focus likely to be on local rather than national agendas, the assembly could prove more of a hindrance than a help to Karzai’s effort to strengthen central rule. [emphasis mine]
I would spin this a little differently, however. Because policy-making in Afghanistan’s presidential system is going to be a series of ongoing transactions between the president and this newly elected assembly, Karzai can strengthen central power at the same time as he deals with the fragmentation and local focus of this assembly. This is not the contradiction that it seems. The president and assembly are going to want different things: Karzai will want votes, and the assembly members will want payoffs for themselves or to impress the folks back home. This is not presidential democracy at its prettiest, but it is in a way an archetypical separation-of-powers system.
Being so fragmented, the assembly indeed does not have a pro-Karzai majority. Neither does it have an anti-Karzai majority. Karzai should have no trouble buying support by proving patronage.
Whether that is a model that undermines democracy or is just what is needed given the conditions Afghanistan faces would be an interesting debate. Whether this model is better than the Iraqi one would also be an interesting debate, as would be the question of whether this Afghan model would have been more or less appropariate for Iraq than the system chosen there. Interesting debates, indeed. Perhaps also the basis of some interesting essay questions for certain students later this quarter!
This statement borders on comical. Afghanistan had a few elections under semi-liberal conditions between the 1964 modernizing constitution and the 1973 coup. Since then, it has experienced a decade of Soviet military assault, about five years of unstable Taliban rule, and has been under civil war more or les continously since 1978.
Does democracy not have to have a record before it can have “record turnout”?
Given that Afghanistan’s constitutional form is also presidential, and that Hamid Karzai has already been president for a while without an elected legislature, and that the newly elected legislature is going to be utterly fragmented (atomized might be a better word), the best that can be expected is a semi-autocratic regime in which the president buys support with patronage and continues to ignore most of the war criminals who will have manipulated their way (or that of friends and family) into office.
And this is even before we get into the problems of just how weak the state is in Afghanistanâ€”something I may get into at a later time.
I wish I could be more optimistic, but this exercise in “democracy-building” makes Iraq look almost easy.
The Taliban shura council appeals to the Afghan people not to take part in the September 18 elections as this election farce is also an American plan. Therefore, not only should the Afghan people stay away from the elections, they should also try to sabotage them.
Meanwhile, warlords are looking to influence the elections. The LA Times reports that an Electoral Complaints Commission, comprised of three foreigners and two Afghans, has attempted to screen out candidates with connections to militias. However, its ability to do so has been limited:
Unlike other regions that endured brutal conflicts such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia, East Timor and now Iraq, Afghanistan has seen no international effort to investigate or prosecute war criminals.
Instead, many of those who might have faced a court have been rewarded with positions as police chiefs, military commanders and politicians, said Mehdad Noorani, editor and publisher of the weekly Taraqi.
Now add to all this, two facts about the SNTV electoral system (which I posted about before here and here):
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.
What you wind up with, then, is that even voters who brave threats of violence and want to help put an end to the grip warlords have on their country will find it extremely difficult to use these elections to further that purpose.
As I noted in a previous post, the Afghan elections of September 18 will be held under the single nontransferable vote system. Even if party affiliations are on the ballot, SNTV undermines the collective identity of parties by its very nature, and this has significant consequences for the way national politics is conducted.
With SNTV each electoral district elects more than one legislator, but unlike with proportional representation, there is no means for votes to be shared across candidates of the same party in the district. Instead, the winners are just the individual candidates with the most votes, regardless of party affiliation.
SNTV is a fairly rare electoral system, and for good reason. Most political scientists who specialize in electoral systems would consider it one of the very worst of all ways to elect legislators. SNTV was used in Japan till 1993, and that is the most famous case of the system. (The current legislatures of Colombia and Taiwan have been elected under SNTV, but the system will be replaced as of the next elections in those countries. It is also used in Jordan and Vanuatu (!), as well as some local nonpartisan elections in Alabama.)
In Japan’s post-war use of SNTV, the largest district was usually six seats, and most districts had 3 or 5 seats. Even such relatively small districts created an extremely personalized form of politics, with a dominant (but deeply factionalized) major party and a very fragmented oppositionâ€”both results created by the low share of votes a candidate needs in order to win under SNTV and the absence of mechanisms by which candidates of the same party can benefit from their copartisans’ vote-pulling ability.
In the Afghan case, the number of legislators elected is extremeley high in some provinces. For instance:
The winners will be the top 34, with the proviso that 9 have to be women (thus meaning, in practice, some men with higher vote totals will be skipped to ensure that no fewer than 9 of the 64 women are elected).
Barnett Rubin, in the International Herald Tribune back in March, 2005, said it well:
the system favors well-organized minorities, despite voter intentions. One or two well-known candidates may garner the lion’s share of votes. After that, among dozens or hundreds of individuals on the ballot, representatives can be elected with very few votes. Which lower-ranked candidates win is at best random, and at worst, the result of manipulation.
Similarly, the International Crisis Group (IGC) has described this electoral system as a “lottery.”
Indeed, given 34 seats, it is likely some of the legislators elected in Kabul will have been the choice of fewer than 1.5% of voters in the district. (A good rule of thumb is that half a ‘Hare quota’ is sufficient for election under SNTV, where the quota is the reciprocal of the number of seats in the district.) But given the phenomenon described by Rubin, the last candidate elected could have far less than 1.5%.
The Age (Melbourne) explains the choice of this unusual system as follows:
The prohibition on candidates running under a party banner exists because, in the absence of a mature democracy, political parties become vehicles for personal leadership aspirations rather than a genuine policy platform.
This is certainly a valid point. The strict party-based electoral system of Iraq did indeed generate parties based more on allegiance to identifiable leadersâ€”think Grand Ayatollah Sistani, for exampleâ€”rather than programmatic parties on the West European model. Most voters in Iraq, where the requirement was to pick a list, rather than a candidate, simply voted for the party list associated with religious or ethnic leaders they recognized.
But how will Afghan voters vote? There is a telling anecdote in a fascinating story in the Telegraph set in the Wakhan Corrior (that little ‘finger’ of the country that ‘points’ at China). An ethnic Kyrgyz nomad says, “I will vote for Hamid Karzai” and his friends accompanying him all agree. Upon being informed that Karzai is not on the ballot, the man says:
If I can’t vote for Karzai then I will vote for whoever is going to the parliament from our village.
That is surely how the vast majority of Afghans will approach this election: Vote for some local notable. The result will be a National Assembly with no coherent majority, which will mean Karzai will have to piece support together by providing various payoffs (mostly jobs, pork, etc.) to factions of legislators in exchange for their support of Karzai’s policy initiatives.
The emerging Afghan comination of a president bargaining with a disorganized legislative branch stands in stark contrast to the emerging Iraqi pattern of a parliamentary system based on a coalition of centralized parties. Most political scientists would favor something closer to the Iraqi model, at least in the abstract (though few would have advised the single national district that was used for Iraq’s party-list election). Whether one or the other model is preferable for wartorn and divided societies like those of Afghanistan and Iraq could be a topic for an interesting debate (or a class assignment).
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4