Poster-sized ballots, wasted votes and a divided parliament are just a few
of the problems that Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission is trying
to tackle with a new draft election law. The commission wrote and submitted the
draft to the Ministry of Justice in August with the hope that the proposed reforms
will be adopted in time to prepare for the next presidential vote in 2009.
Over the last 18 months years, IFES assisted the commission in its review of
the entire election law and organized a series of regional public workshops and
a national conference that sought input from stakeholders on a broad range of
issues related to revising the electoral law. One of the most contentious issues
was the selection of an electoral system. The latest draft law put forth by the
election commission includes a modification to the single non-transferable vote
system, or SNTV, which Afghanistan used during the parliamentary elections in
System Proves Problematic
Under the SNTV system, voters cast one vote for a candidate competing in a
race in which there are multiple seats to be filled in each electoral district.
Individual candidates with the most votes win. SNTV also creates a challenge for
political parties who must ensure that they do not field too many candidates and
split their supporters’ votes, thus giving opposing parties with fewer candidates
In Afghanistan, the system was further complicated because political parties
were barred from fielding candidates. The result was that in many regions, the
ballot was unwieldy because of the sheer number of candidates. For example, ballots
in Kabul contained the names of nearly 400 candidates. In addition, the system
led to a fragmented vote, with the top vote getter receiving 50,000 votes to a
few thousand for the lowest winning candidate. Furthermore, 68 percent of votes
went to losing candidates, which has contributed to public frustration with the
The new draft law proposes a modified SNTV system. The draft attempts to address
some of the problems of 2005 by including a maximum constituency size of 10 seats
and allowing party symbols next to candidate names on the ballot. It also retains
68 reserved seats for women and 10 for Kuchis, the nomadic minority. The IEC hopes
the draft law will pass to the cabinet and on to the Assembly within a month.
Preparing for Public Debate
Elections expert Andrew Reynolds briefs civil society leaders on proposed reforms to Afghanistan's electoral system.
To prepare Afghan citizens to consider which electoral system is best for them,
IFES helped the election commission conduct a public outreach campaign last year
to solicit views on various components of the electoral law and in particular
the electoral system. Andrew Reynolds, an international elections expert, briefed
stakeholders on various electoral systems and their implications for Afghan politics.
Reynolds returned to Afghanistan last month to discuss the proposed law with members
of the Electoral Law Subcommittee of the Legal Affairs Commission, the cabinet,
civil society, political parties and independents within and outside of parliament.
Opinion seems to be split between those who support SNTV and those in favor
of or open to a system involving proportional representation—a system designed
to award legislative seats in proportion to a party’s share of the national
vote. Government ministers in general seem to favor SNTV, while many parties in
and outside of parliament are clearly supportive of a proportional system or mix
of the two. Assembly members appear split between SNTV and a mixed system and
eager to learn as much as possible about electoral systems and their implications.
The chairman of the Electoral Law Subcommittee spent many hours with Reynolds
absorbing the details about different electoral systems so he can facilitate discussion
with the Legal Affairs Commission and lead proposed public hearings.
Reynolds said questions from the election stakeholders ranged from detailed
inquiries on vote allocation under mixed member proportional representation—in
which a set number of legislators are elected by geographic constituency and deducted
from the party totals as to maintain overall proportionality—to general
queries on campaign funding, delimitation and women’s ability to join political