(Aug. 8, 2013) On July 20, 2013, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the second of two election laws governing presidential and provincial elections, reducing fears that the upcoming 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections might be delayed. (Afghan President Signs New Election Law, RADIO FREE EUROPE RADIO LIBERTY [RFERL] (July 20, 2013).) The two laws were debated in Parliament for a number of months before they were approved by a joint commission made up of members of Afghanistan’s upper and lower house. (Afghan President Approves New Election Law, LIGNET (July 20, 2013).)
In connection with the recently enacted law, the debates were particularly heated over the issue of reserved seats – for ten nomad representatives, for one representative each of the Hindu and the Sikh faiths, and for the number of women represented on provincial and district councils. A compromise was reached after “eliminating the dedicated seat for Hindus, approving seats for nomads, and accepting twenty percent of provincial council seats for women.” (Afghan Parliament Approves Bill for Election Law, KHAAMA PRESS (July 15, 2013).) Under the Afghanistan Constitution and the new law on presidential elections, President Karzai, whose second five-year term ends next year, cannot seek a third term. (Afghan President Approves New Election Law, supra; Constitution of Afghanistan 2004, art. 62, LEXADIN (last visited Aug. 1, 2013).
The first electoral law, which was approved by President Karzai on July 17, 2013, defined the role and structure of the Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). Reports indicate that this new law will retain the ECC, which was “integral to unmasking massive fraud during Afghanistan’s last presidential election in 2009.” (Afghan Leader Approves Reforms of Election Watchdog, RFERL (July 17, 2013).)
Last year, the government had ordered that the ECC be replaced by a special tribunal appointed directly by President Karzai, raising fears from rights groups that it would weaken efforts to prevent electoral abuse in future elections. Although the newly approved law preserves the ECC, two foreign United Nations representatives will be removed from serving on it, a compromise measure adopted to meet a key demand of President Karzai. Instead, the five members of the ECC will all be Afghan nationals. The members will still be appointed by Karzai, but he is to make the selections from a short list put forward by a panel. (Emal Haidary, Karzai Signs Afghan Election Reforms into Law, FOX NEWS (July 17, 2013).) The panel is comprised of five senior government officials, including the head of the Supreme Court, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the head of the Senate, the head of the Afghan Constitution Supervision Committee, and the head of the Independent Human Rights Commission. (Ghanizada, Karzai Appoints New Members for Independent Election Commission, KHAAMA PRESS (July 29, 2013).)
There are indications that the enactment of the new laws resulted from increasing pressure from Afghanistan’s international partners. (Afghan President Signs New Election Law, supra.) U.N. and foreign donors have made holding free, transparent, and timely elections requirements for their continued funding. In early July, representatives from 40 countries reaffirmed their pledges of some US$16 billion of support for Afghanistan, citing the approval of the two new election laws as a basis for their gesture. (Afghan President Approves New Election Law, supra.) In addition, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reiterated its strong support for holding the presidential and the provincial council elections on time, on April 5, 2014, and in accordance with the Afghan Constitution. UNAMA also “urges the rapid presidential endorsement and enactment of the law, and, just as importantly, the speedy implementation of the law, specifically the appointment of the Independent Election Commission’s (IEC) senior officials” (Afghan Parliament Approves Bill for Election Law, supra.)
Written by Aliullah Shefaju, Intern, Law Library of Congress, under the supervision of Tariq Ahmad, Legal Research Analyst.