The long-overdue results of the September 18 Afghan parliamentary elections still have not been announced because of complaints and problems with the counting process. The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) had planned to release the final tally on Wednesday, November 9, only to once again postpone the announcement. According to JEMB chair Bissmillah Bissmil, “The final results already declared for 29 of Afghanistan’s provinces and the remaining results are expected to be certified in the coming days.”
The JEMB had anticipated logistical problems during the counting process, as Afghanistan’s terrain meant using donkeys, helicopters, and airplanes to transport the ballot boxes to the counting stations. Yet despite these challenges, the final results were expected to be ready by October 22, a little more than a month after the elections. However, due to squabbling over the counting process and disputes and complaints lodged regarding the alleged irregularities, there are still problems that the JEMB must address. The Election Complaints Commission (ECC) reported that the JEMB had received about 5,400 complaints, but the vast majority could not be substantiated. Only 500 complaints could actually affect the outcome of the voting (Pajhwok Afghan News, November 9).
Almost 5,800 candidates participated in the elections, including over 2,700 for the lower house of parliament (Wolesi Jirga) and more than 3,000 for the 420 provincial council seats. Two-thirds of the 102 seats in the upper house (Meshrano Jirga) will be chosen through the provincial races. Two members from each of the 34 provinces will be chosen from the provincial councils and another 34 members will be appointed by the president. “We are moving forward with our plans for the Meshrano Jirga elections,” Bissmil declared. “We are confident that preparations for this final phase of the election operation are on track and that Afghanistan will soon have its first democratically election national assembly in decades.” Provincial councils were scheduled to convene on Thursday, November 10, and elections for the upper house of parliament will take place two days later (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, November 8).
Although the results are not yet official, JEMB has posted updates on the counting process. In most of the provinces, except Kandahar and the Kuchis (Nomads), the counting is over and the results are known if not certified. These provisional results have yielded some surprises. Hazara leader Haji Mohammad Muhaqqeq, who finished third in the October 2004 presidential race, got the most votes in Kabul province and became the first candidate to collect over 52,000 votes. Younos Qanooni, who placed second in the presidential race, got the second-highest vote tally. Another Hazara candidate, Ramazan Bashardoost, the former planning minister, came third.
Several familiar names won seats in the new parliament. Qayoom Karzai, the elder brother of President Hamid Karzai, is the top vote winner in Kandahar. There is also another Karzai, the president’s first cousin, from among the prospective winners in Kabul. Mulla Salam Rackety, a notorious former commander who was implicated in some kidnappings as well as involvement in the Taliban administration, is the top prospective winner in the volatile southern province of Zabul.
The biggest surprise of the elections is the high percentage of former mujahideen leaders and commanders who appear to have won seats. Reportedly, the majority of the new parliament will be comprised of former mujahideen. Shukria Barazkai, a prominent candidate from Kabul, says parliament will be a “collection of former warlords…with just a few democrats and bright-minded people.”
Many Afghans argue that some of these warlord figures should be in prison, not parliament, because of their alleged involvement in past atrocities. Yet it is not surprising that a warlord might find a parliamentary mandate desirable: a seat in parliament currently brings immunity from prosecution.
In fact there are concerns that the former warlords will band together in parliament to block attempts to set up a judicial process to try them or that they could try to impose their more conservative Islamic beliefs on the entire country. Hussein Ramoz, executive director of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, says: “If the majority of the MPs are either warlords or conservative people, it could influence the future of Afghanistan, unfortunately, in a very negative way” (Erada, November 8).
However, there are already signs that the new parliament will not be a cohesive group of former comrades-in-arms. Several prominent former mujahideen leaders have already announced their readiness to compete against one another to become speaker of the lower house. This group includes Burhanuddin Rabbani, the first mujahideen president who came to power in Kabul in the early 1990s and who was implicated in the civil war that ensued. So has Qanooni, a fellow Tajik leader who hails from the same party. Rabbani has announced his unwillingness to enter a coalition with Qanooni (Cheragh, November 8). Muhaqqeq, who is a member of a key opposition coalition known as the National Understanding Front — and headed by Qanooni — also would like to run for the top post in the parliament. His candidacy would likely split the Front irreparably. The field of candidates for the speaker of the upper house is also crowded. Among the prospective runners are Nurolhaq Oloomi, a former prominent communist general, Sayyaf, a controversial former resistance leader, Shokria Barakzai, Ramazan Bashardost, and others.
The landmark parliamentary election in Afghanistan may be a victory for the democratic process, but the elected officials may have sought office to advance their own interests, not help rebuild their country.