AREU Synthesis Paper Series
Campaign posters crowd street furniture in Mazar-i-Sharif, 2010 (AREU file photo)
However, in statements about political parties, the problems raised appear to refer to broader concerns about the very principle of political competition, and many respondents appeared genuinely concerned about the idea of competition between parties or groups in general. This is due in part to the legacy of conflict in Afghanistan, and the way threatened or actual violence has been used as a tool of political negotiation. This is also reflected in perspectives on regular stand-offs in parliament between the government and different groups who would now classify themselves as in opposition. When respondents in a related AREU project on parliamentary elections talked about the rise of the so-called “opposition,” an overwhelming number stressed the need for reconciliation between the two groups in order to produce an effective, unified
government.76 They also expressed considerable concern about the possible ethnic implications of opposition, fearing that further conflict in parliament could ultimately produce a Pashtun-dominated pro-
Karzai bloc set against a largely Tajik opposition.
This aversion to competition is problematic in many ways, not least because political competition forms one of the central components of any definition of democratic politics. Some scholars have argued that the uncertainty arising from the competition between groups or individuals is institutionalised by democratic elections—indeed, that elections are held in order to promote uncertainty—and that “democratisation is a process of subjecting all interests to competition.”77 Although the way elections currently take place in Afghanistan does not create a level playing field for all candidates, the ideal scenario within a democratisation agenda is that at some point, a certain level of fair competition is reached.78 While this may seem to go against the overall distaste for competition expressed by many respondents, it is perhaps the distinct lack of experience of perceived “fair” competition that generates respondents’ concern in the first place. The tensions between competition and stability are, however, evident in this discussion, and were further emphasised by respondents in a general stated preference for a politics of consensus.
A politics of consensus: Preferred but problematic
Competitive party politics—or indeed competition more generally—was not viewed in a positive light by respondents, primarily as a result of its ability to create tension and enhance instability. By contrast, a politics of consensus—whether embodied in the institutions of shura or jirgas, or in elders or
76 See Coburn Governance.”
77 Adam Przeworski, “Democracy as a Contingent Outcome of Conflicts,” in Constitutionalism and Democracy, eds. Jon Elster and Rune Slagstad (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 68.
Larson, “The Wolesi Jirga in Flux,” 10.