Undermining representative governance: Afghanistan's 2010 Parliamentary Election and Its Alienating Impact

from Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit
Published on 22 Feb 2011

Fraught with intimidation, insecurity, fraud and uncertainty, Afghanistan's 2010 parliamentary election provided a contemporary snapshot of the country's political system. Moreover, the polls for the lower house Wolesi Jirga directly contributed to rising levels of instability, as opposed to providing a peaceful means of power-sharing. In addition to causing a crisis at the national level, the election emphasised existing conflicts at the local level, prompting new outbreaks of violence as the stakes for a share of political power were raised.

This paper analyses the 2010 election as it happened in three provinces (Kabul, Balkh and Paktya), providing insight into the preparations, process and results in these areas. It situates the election in its political and historical context, drawing on an extensive two-year study by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) of Afghan perspectives on elections.

It focuses analysis around two central themes that were repeatedly raised by respondents during the research: strategic ambiguity and instability. During the election process, local political struggles became apparent in the mobilisation of voters, public debates, posturing and violence as groups competed for the valuable resource of connecting their patronage networks more closely with Kabul. Furthermore, the pervasiveness of both ambiguity and instability throughout the exercise has increased the gap between voters and the government, further alienating Afghan citizens from their supposed representatives.

For many respondents interviewed, ultimately this election was not as important for the results it generated as it was for the way in which it reinforced the instability and lack of transparency of Afghanistan's political system. For these people this has brought into question the value of holding elections at all in the current context. This paper concludes by looking at how the election has further undermined representative governance in Afghanistan more broadly and the implications of this.