South Asia

Q&A: Afghan parliamentary elections

Afghans voted on 18 September 2010 to elect a new parliament for the second time since the fall of Taliban rule in 2001.

Viewed as a test of the stability for the Afghan state, the vote was marred by fraud - just like the presidential election of 2009.

In November, poll counters announced results from all but one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, with the outcome still unclear in volatile Ghazni.

What were Afghans voting for?

The polls were to elect the Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament. The vote was originally due to be held on 22 May, but was postponed because of security, logistical and funding problems.

This was the second time that democratic elections had been held for the Wolesi Jirga. The house was originally elected in 2005 in a UN and Afghan-organised poll.

The parliamentary vote was seen as a key test for the country, a year after the re-election of President Karzai was overshadowed by fraud.

Who organised the vote?

The elections were organised by the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC), and were funded by the UN Development Programme and donor countries. Complaints about results and the conduct of the poll were handled by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).

The election process was open to observation by political representatives, the media and independent election observer missions, both national and international, although security concerns made it difficult to monitor voting in many areas.

Who ran the election?

After a vetting process which disqualified candidates for suspected links to illegal armed groups or for not resigning from their government posts, the IEC approved 2,500 candidates, 400 of whom are women.

The ballot paper for Kabul Province had the names of some 650 candidates.

In November Mr Karzai was said to be deeply worried about the ethnic split in the vote, with many Pashtun candidates rejected at the ballot box.

A good example of this was in the southern province of Ghazni, where according to preliminary results, Hazaras won all 11 parliamentary seats. The result raised questions because Hazaras are the third largest ethnic group in a province where Pashtuns are in the majority.

Pashtun leaders say that Taliban harassment prevented them from voting.

Is there a political party system in Afghan politics?

Political parties have a weak presence in Afghan politics, and few candidates declared party affiliations. Ethnicity continued to be the main factor influencing alliances.

Traditionally, Afghan political life is based on consensus, and a loya jirga, or grand assembly, is convened to deal with any major issues. Lack of trust in political parties has been a continuing theme in recent months, with observers citing affiliations with foreign countries and their sources of funding.

How did the election process work?

Members of the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga are elected through the single non-transferable voting system, and sit for a five-year term. Each of Afghanistan's 34 provinces was supposed to elect members in proportion to its population, with 10 seats set aside for Kuchi nomads. The IEC has guaranteed at least 68 seats will be filled by women.

But the allegations of fraud and voter disenfranchisement has meant that many have lost faith in the entire voting process.

There were 35 different ballot papers - one for each province and one for the Kuchi constituency.

How did the security situation affect the poll?

Before the vote, the IEC said that it could not open more than 1,000 of the planned 6,835 polling centres on 18 September because of security threats.

Vowing to attack polling stations, the Taliban made a direct threat on 5 September, saying that anyone associated with the poll was a legitimate target. Insurgents issued warnings across the country that people should not turn out. They said that the poll was illegitimate and they would take all necessary measures to disrupt it.

In the run-up to the poll at least 23 people, four of them candidates, were killed in election-related violence. A number of election officials and campaign workers were kidnapped. There was also widespread intimidation of female candidates and threats against election workers.

What part did the media play in the election?

Every candidate was entitled to a three-minute slot on state-run TV and five minutes on Radio Afghanistan. Many chose instead to pay for slots on popular private channels, where air time can cost up to $700 per minute. State-run newspapers also published a special election page every day during the campaign period to ensure balanced coverage.

The leading television stations - both private and state-run channels - organised discussion programmes on the challenges caused by the election.

When will the final results become known?

At the time of writing that is difficult to say. By November 2010, the results for 238 places in the 249-seat lower house have been determined. Officials say it is not clear when the result for the 11 seats in Ghazni province will be known.

Before the vote, authorities said final results would be made known on 30 October.

Was vote-rigging an issue?

Officials have disqualified 24 winning candidates due to suspected fraud and other irregularities.

The IEC scrapped 1.3m votes as invalid - almost a quarter of those cast - because of irregularities.

Ahead of the vote, the authorities seized thousands of forged voter registration cards.

President Hamid Karzai's 2009 re-election was also overshadowed by fraud; a third of the votes cast for him were discounted.

What is the expected outcome?

Even when the results do become fully known, the election is not expected to change the make-up of the current government.

Some critics say that President Karzai's credibility has been damaged by the vote-rigging allegations and by the fact that many of his preferred candidates appear to have been defeated.

The president may take some consolation from the words of Staffan de Mistura, the UN's special representative in Afghanistan.

He said before the vote took place "expectations needed to be lowered", as the election might not suit the Western ideal of democracy.

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