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Afghanistan - September 2005 - Wolesi Jirga National Assembly Elections

On September 18, citizens elected 249 members of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the National Assembly, in an election deemedcredible by the majority of citizens. Members of the Meshrano Jirga, the upper house, were selected through presidential and provincial council nomination. There were 249 men and 68 women in the Wolesi Jirga and 102 men and 22 women in the Meshrano Jirga. Since the parliament was inaugurated on December 19, members of parliament worked together cooperatively. There is no established tradition of political parties, but political groups were being formed in the National Assembly.

The constitution calls for a bicameral legislature, the National Assembly - Wolesi Jirga (House of People). For security reasons, the first parliamentary and local elections were postponed from October 2004 until April 2005, and then again to September 2005. Because of this delay, the actual powers of the legislative branch vis-à-vis the executive branch have not been tested.

Members of the lower house, the 249-member Wolesi Jirga (House of the People), are to be elected directly for five-year terms. The Wolesi Jirga is to have 249 members. The 102 members of the upper house, the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders) are to be appointed by provincial councils (one member for each of 34 provinces, serving fouryear terms), by district councils (accounting for another 34 members, each serving three-year terms), and the president.

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 28 March 2004 confirmed reports suggesting that general elections scheduled for June 2004 would be postponed until September 2004. "We are focused on having both presidential and parliamentary elections at the same time," Karzai told a news conference, "[However,] the UN and the electoral commission said, 'If you want the presidential election, we can have it on time [in June], but if you want both the presidential and parliamentary elections together, it is not possible due to some technical problems.' That is why we have decided to have them both in September."

Candidate nominations started on 04 May 2005 and ended on 26 May. With the exception of notable but isolated incidents of violence, the candidate nomination process was generally calm. All in all, more than 6,000 candidates submitted their applications for the 249 seats at the Lower House and the 420 seats in the 34 Provincial Councils. Roughly 12% of these candidates are women, which guarantees that the quota of women in Parliament will be fulfilled. Only 12% of candidates registered with an affiliation to a political party - whereas the number of parties officially registered has reached 72.

One of the key concerns about the nomination process was that, given the amount of power still wielded at local level by commanders, the latter could have hijacked the electoral process from the very beginning by preventing others from nominating themselves. However, of the total number of candidates, only approximately 4% are considered to have actual links to armed groups. A total of 254 nominees suspected of having links with armed groups were identified and informed by the independent Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) that, in order to prevent their disqualification, they had until July 7 to disarm or provide evidence that any links with armed groups have been severed.

In addition, only 212 government officials had nominated themselves. This suggested that officials and commanders have not dominated the process, and that ordinary Afghans were not discouraged from nominating themselves as candidates. Subject to further analysis, this also suggests that, on polling day, Afghans will be presented with a genuine political choice.

A UN official expressed worry that a significant shortfall in international financial contributions could force a postponement of the elections in Afghanistan scheduled for September. Briefing the Security Council 24 June 2005, Jean Arnault, the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, said that the election project was still $78.8 million short of its anticipated cost. Even though the UN Development Program (UNDP) expects that major pledges totaling $34 million will be coming soon, the program would still have a funding gap of $44 million as the September election day approaches.

AIHRC and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that local officials tried to influence the outcome of elections. From April 19 through September 13, citizens reported more than 390 such attempts to the AIHRC/UNAMA joint verification team.For example, the Herat Provincial administration dismissed Mohammad Ibrahim Kushki, a candidate for parliament from Herat, for using his position as head of the Islamic labor union to promote his campaign and apply pressure on the local community to vote for him. Wolesi Jirga candidate Fatima Kazimiyan used her position as former head of the Bamyan Department of Women’s Affairs to influence voters in her favor, but she was disqualified as candidate by the Joint Election Management Body. The Electoral Complaints Commission received 5,397 complaints during the parliamentary election season and disqualified 37 candidates (of over 6,000) from the campaign, including 3 for committing election offenses.

Militants targeted civilians and election officials in a campaign to derail national elections. ATaliban spokesman declared that all parliamentary candidates were high priority targets, and during the year antigovernment forces killed seven parliamentary candidates, two parliamentarians-elect, and at least four election workers. On June 22, unknown assailants killed a provincial council candidate from Uruzgan province. At year’s end the case remained open. On August 3, unknown men opened fire on a female parliamentary candidate from Kandahar as she sat in a parked vehicle. The woman was unharmed, and no one was charged. Also in early August unknown assailants shot and injuredHawa Alam Nuristani, a female candidate, in Nuristan. She had received many death threats prior to the incident. In September the Taliban killed parliamentary candidate Mohammad Ashraf Ramazan, sparking mass demonstrations throughout Mazar-e-Sharif. While some alleged that the governor of Balkh province was involved in the assassination, three other suspects were detained for the attack. The case remained unresolved at year’s end.

Unlike in previous years, the government did not ban any political parties, other than the Taliban. After some delays in registering parties whose leaders were former communists, over 70 accredited political parties registered with the Ministry of Justice and participated in parliamentary elections.

Political parties generally were able to conduct activities throughout the country, except in regions where antigovernment violence affected overall security. AIHRC and UNAMA reports revealed that officials sometimes interfered with political parties, mainly because of a lack of awareness of citizens' political rights. Political parties also exercised significant self-censorship. Political activities were visibly discouraged or curtailed in some parts of the country. However, UNAMA and AIHRC's conclusions were that political freedom improved substantially and steadily during the year.

Of the 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, the law requires that 10 seats be allocated to Kuchis and 68 seats to women. Approximately 25 percent of the total seats were also reserved for women on each provincial council. In the Meshrano Jirga, 17 of the 34 seats appointed by the president were reserved for women, and 2 were reserved for persons with disabilities. Five women were elected to the Meshrano Jirga from the provincial councils, although there were no quotas for the number of women to be elected to the Meshrano Jirga from the provincial councils. There were two women in President Karzai's cabinet, one female governor, two women on the six-member electoral commission, and a female chair of the AIHRC.

While women’s political participation gained a degree of acceptance, there were elements that resisted this trend. Antigovernment forces in the eastern, southeastern, and southern regions of the country targeted women associated with the electoral process for violent attacks and threats. Of the 633 female candidates, 51 withdrew their candidacy, citing economic constraints as the cause for withdrawal. Despite these difficulties, citizens elected 17 women who would have won seats in the Wolesi Jirga even without the constitutional quota. A woman from Herat received the largest number of votes of any candidate in the province.

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