KABUL (Reuters) - Afghans vote in parliamentary elections on September 18 for 249 seats in the country’s Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament.
Here are some questions and answers about an election that is costing foreign donors around $150 million to stage:
Parliament approves or rejects legislation proposed by the government, which is formed by the president but subject to the assembly’s approval. Afghanistan also has an upper house made up of presidential and provincial appointees, but real power lies with the lower house, or Wolesi Jirga. Parliament has been increasingly flexing its muscle and has recently blocked President Hamid Karzai’s choices for certain cabinet positions.
Political parties are mostly removed from the electoral process in a system designed to prevent ethnic factionalism, so candidates for both parliamentary and presidential elections run as individuals. A total of 2,447 candidates, including 386 women, are standing for 249 Wolesi Jirga seats. The number of seats given to each district depends on population size, with Kabul the largest with 3 million people and 33 seats — nine reserved for women. A total of 664 candidates are registered in the capital alone.
The number of candidates is slightly down from the 2,775 who stood in 2005 although the Independent Election Commission (IEC) says it made an extra effort to persuade women and members of nomadic tribes to run. Ministers and civil servants are not allowed to run while in office, and candidates require the support of 1,000 registered voters to run.
Members represent dozens of political parties as well as factions and blocs formed by warlords who fought for and against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and in the subsequent civil war. Regional strongmen also form ethnic and tribal groups. These blocs are less important when standing for election than when voting on issues in parliament — particularly when it comes to Karzai forming cabinets.
The IEC says at least 938 of 6,835 polling centers — around 13 percent — will not open because security cannot be guaranteed. The Taliban tried, with limited success, to disrupt the 2005 parliamentary vote and the 2009 presidential vote. Insurgents have made no threats so far about next month’s election, but at least three candidates have been killed in attacks by suspected Taliban fighters.
Fraud marred Karzai’s re-election last year and caused a major rift with Washington. Afghanistan’s U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) threw out a third of votes cast for Karzai as fraudulent. Following the ruckus, Karzai changed the make-up of the commission and it now comprises three Afghans, an Iraqi and a South African. Complaints will have to be registered within three days of the poll, and the ECC has the authority to impose sanctions and penalties if it concludes an offence was committed.
Civilian and military deaths in Afghanistan are at record levels and violence at its worst since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. The government’s inability to secure the election will cast more doubts about Karzai’s plans to put Afghan forces in complete control of security by 2014. Fraud is another concern, with some Western observers fearing Karzai will again have to make promises to appease opposing blocs, a worrying sign after the fraud and pork-barreling that marred last year’s vote when more than a third of Karzai’s votes were thrown out as fake. The presence of powerful rivals could create a parliament hostile to Karzai and frustrate Western countries pushing him to step up anti-graft efforts and improve governance while U.S. and NATO forces push ahead with offensives before a troop drawdown begins next July.
Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Paul Tait and Miral Fahmy