A Historic Event Facing Several Obstacles
In a nation that has been plagued by armed conflicts, the elections for the "Wolesi Jirga" – the lower house of the Afghani Parliament, with 249 seats, 68 of which are reserved for women – is of extraordinary political significance. For the first time in the history of Afghanistan, a legislative body will be created.
The opposition needs a parliamentary outlet in order to effectively express its criticism of the government as well as its ideas for improving the socio-political situation in the country. After all, President Hamid Karzai, democratically elected in October 2004, has been governing the country via a de facto self-given authority since the creation of an interim administration in December of 2001.
For one, the fragmented opposition in the country is becoming less and less tolerant of this situation. Moreover, the international community is urgently interested in being able to declare the end of the provisional "Islamic State of Afghanistan" once and for all.
The face of the opposition is surprisingly multi-facetted: By now, nearly 80 political groups have formed which are officially recognized as political parties. The broad range of powers represented includes those that are formerly communist-oriented, others with a democratic basis, and still others who have a strong religious bias.
The dilemma is not, however, that political parties but rather that individual persons have been authorized as candidates. While this does make it easier for voters to locate their desired candidate with the corresponding symbols in the four-to-six-page election brochure,
it makes it harder for parties to reach potential voters who rely on ethnic or religious loyalties to make their decisions about "national identity."
Tribal affiliation is decisive
Last year, the first democratic presidential elections on the Hindukush officially documented for the first time that tribal affiliation continues to be the most important factor in Afghanistan.
Its significance has even increased since the presidential election, says Qamar Wakili, former Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Affairs. "That's why my slogan is 'National Unity and Social Justice.' Discrimination according to language, tribe, region or race have caused a great deal of harm in Afghanistan."
The greatest danger to an incident-free election, however, is posed by the Taliban militias who aim to sabotage the elections. Paradoxically, the names of several of the high-ranking Taliban cadre also appear on the election ballots. This has led to angry protests by some of the other groups and parties.
Tight security measures
The danger posed by former regional warlords who have accepted the rules of the new Afghanistan and have thus been integrated into the decisions of the central government, can also not be downplayed.
In order to insure the safety of citizens and candidates and proper procedure during the elections, about 40,000 national security personnel will team up with 30,000 international security forces. Despite the extensive security measures being taken, six of the more than 2700
parliamentary candidates have already been killed in targeted attacks by the armed opposition.
Nevertheless, political observers once again expect Afghani citizens to turn out in high numbers. Voter turnout for the presidential election in October 2004 was over 80 percent.
Said Musa Samimy
© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2005
Translation from German: Mark Rossman