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or ratify policies links back only to a handful of examples in the last century, and even on these occasions the meetings were used more as a rubber stamp to confirm executive decisions than as truly consultative processes.84

Another key issue with the promotion of a politics of consensus is that it seems ostensibly at odds with the simultaneous promotion of competitive elections in which majority rule is a defining principle. However, as described above, this fundamental difference does not seem to have been too problematic in practice, and elections have been accepted by many communities at the local level as legitimate means through which to select representatives. This is the case because, for the most part, voting is still a community affair in which candidates are selected according to local consensus and then bloc votes given.85 Different respondents described the benefits of this process and how it coincides with a politics of consensus:

In my opinion, we can establish government and sovereignty when the local people are voting for their choice of candidate. Elders of the tribes, local shuras and village representatives gather together before election time and they choose a person who can work for the promotion and development of the countr , keeping in mind Afghan culture and traditions. We are Afghan and we should not forget our culture and traditions...Every tribe must elect a person who is educated, professional and respected by the people. This person should be elected with the help of the village shura.

  • Housewife and home-shopkeeper,

urban Nangarhar

Elections are very good. I am illiterate and I haven’t studied the Holy Qur’an but I know that if someone has grabbed a seat by force or power, elections can remove him from that seat. Elections are very good because there is no bloodshed. In the past, during the life of the Prophet, elders were selected through council


Barfield, Afghanistan, 295.


Noah Coburn and Anna Larson, “Voting Together: Why Afghanistan’s

2009 Elections were (and were not) a Disaster” (Kabul: AREU, 2009).

Deconstructing “Democracy” in Afghanistan

and consultation. Now also we should do things the same way and vote to select our leaders.

  • Male villager, rural Nangarhar

It is good that decision-makers are chosen by the people and the people’s difficulties are solved by them. From another perspective, Islam commands us to discuss all issues togethe . Consultation is an important principle of our religion.

  • Female PC member, urban Nangarhar

As the respondent in the first quotation implies, the concept of electing representative “with the help of the village shura,” or through bloc voting, is at odds with the Western democratic principle of “one man, one vote.” Indeed, the concept of bloc voting does not sit comfortably with the ideal of individual rational choice and the tenets of liberal democracy, in which every citizen has the right to vote according to his or her own individual persuasion. As one female student from Kabul pointed out,

Afghanistan is a type of collective society rather than an individualistic one; here there are tribes, ethnicities, religious groups, and regional or village systems. The people act according to whatever is told to them by their leaders or clans. But one of the principles of democracy is that every individual who has wisdom is free.

Evidently, there is a tension here between the will of the community and that of the individual. Nevertheless, it is arguable that the way bloc voting occurs in Afghanistan is no less “rational” for an individual than the prospect of making a lone decision. This is firstly because it could be very much within the individual’s personal interest to ensure a candidate from his community is successful, and secondly because this is a false distinction anyway: in liberal democracies, bloc voting through mechanisms such as lobbying or labour unions are common practice. The quotations above describe how the principles of “assembly democracy” and “representative democracy” are combined in a practical manifestation by Afghans claiming ownership of elections and participating in them through their own established mechanisms of decision-making.


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