AFGHANISTAN: A vote that happened

Taliban threats to disrupt the polls notwithstanding, voting for Afghanistan's parliamentary elections concluded on 18 September with less violence than anticipated. Though there were over 300 reports of violent incidents and more than 20 people killed on the day, these numbers were down from the violence during the presidential and provincial elections the previous year and far less than had been feared. Afghanistan's second parliamentary election since 2001 took place under a new electoral law, though one that still bans political parties from contesting and uses an electoral system that ensures a partyless Parliament. Final results are not anticipated for several weeks but ultimately will ensure that 249 individuals, not representing political groups, will take their place in the new Wolesi Jirga, the lower house.

The deliberate weakening of political groupings has made it difficult to formulate a new direction for the country with an alternative vision to that pursued by Hamid Karzai's government. Yet despite its weakness, Parliament remains the only body capable of challenging the government on any issue. Parliamentary approval is required for a variety of issues – appointments of senior officials including cabinet members (who are un-elected), passage of legislation and the budget (for which Parliament holds a veto). In addition, the Parliament can summon ministers to grill them on their performance. The make-up of those 249 individuals will determine Parliament's ability to perform these critical tasks, but in the lead-up to the voting there were few indications which way the electorate was leaning. While a new crop of young faces caught the imagination of the Western press, another new crop went largely unnoticed – that of commanders who had not contested the 2005 elections but felt emboldened by the impunity enjoyed by their colleagues in Parliament to come into the fray.

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Himal Southasian