Elections without parties


Bush and Blair have hailed the elections in Afghanistan as a great success, and the media have joined in with their usual lack of scepticism.  One rather large fact about the elections has been underreported.  It is that political parties were effectively banned and candidates stood as independents.  See, for example, the Boston Globe report, Afghans go to polls in historic vote, of 18 September 2005.


Around 5,800 candidates stood for the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga and 34 regional councils.  Each candidate had an individual logo, which was on the ballot paper, but party names were not allowed on the ballot paper.  (I haven’t been able to find out whether party names were banned from election literature, for example, from election posters).


The electoral system chosen was single non-transferable vote, even though the constituencies were multi-member.  In other words, an elector could vote for one candidate and that vote could not be transferred to any other.  Presumably, in an n-member constituency, the n candidates with the most votes got elected.


The US must have chosen this system to protect their man in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai, as far as possible, from party political pressure from the Wolesi Jirga. 


In Iraq, where it was impossible to organise the election of a single figure favourable to the US, the electoral system is at the opposite end of the spectrum.  It is a party list system with a single Iraq-wide constituency, in which electors vote for a party and individual candidates barely matter.  The party chooses an ordered list of names, and the number of them elected depends on the number of votes the party receives.  In the election on 30 January 2005, some of the names on these party lists were even kept from the electors, allegedly because the individuals concerned were too frightened to have their names published.


If adopted on a permanent basis, a party list electoral system in a single Iraq-wide constituency will most likely lead to a 3-party state – one Shia, one Sunni and one Kurd.



David Morrison

Labour & Trade Union Review


31 October 2005