AREU Synthesis Paper Series
existing tension and overlap between individual preferences and a politics of consensus. It is argued in this paper that the use of bloc voting and decision-making by consensus have facilitated the uptake of democratic institutions such as elections in communities that otherwise might not adapt well to this latest set of institutional rules. Consensus allows these communities to adapt democratic elections to their own traditions and decision-making practices, and in doing so promotes the sustainability of the process. That said, this must be set against the risk that, in some communities, decision-making of this kind will be captured by a ruling elite and ultimately lead to a less representative system of governance.
Currently, the term “Afghanisation” does not entail handing over decision-making power to all Afghans, but rather to the select few who have been able to consolidate their control over the institutions of government and governance. If “democracy” is to be associated with equality and equal access to resources, it is critical that the executive loosen its grip on parliament. This must coincide with a consistent upholding of the constitution, in which the rights of all male and female citizens are, at least in writing, guaranteed. The consolidation of power in the hands of a select few is by far the most notable grievance with the current government apparent in the data.
In general, universal suffrage is seen as a positive feature of the electoral system and this needs to be encouraged as far as possible, especially since it presents a relatively uncontroversial means to promote women’s access to the public sphere. In addition, there was a considerable desire expressed across educated, elite and rural respondents that those in power be educated enough to carry out their official duties. For some, a lack of trust in the general public’s ability to select appropriate candidates led to a call for educational requirements to be a feature of elections at all levels. While this would evidently be problematic in terms of the possibility of “ordinary people” being represented, it still highlights the imperative of compulsory, quality
education generally, alongside continuing civic education between elections. These must remain a focus of both the Afghan government and international community.
Findings from this study raise significant questions about the nature and trajectory of democratisation in Afghanistan. Firstly, they demonstrate the ambivalence pervading many Afghan perspectives on the term “democracy.” Secondly, they expose the significant gap between the rhetoric of would-be-democratisers on the one hand, and the experienced reality of corruption, patronage and intimidation on the other. Without assigning blame or attempting to pinpoint root causes of this discrepancy, the fact that such a gap exists, is expanding, and is widely recognised by Afghans represents a significant challenge for existing and future interventions designed to promote democracy in the country.
This is not to say that there is not room for the growth of a democratic politics in Afghanistan. Indeed, according to respondents for this study, there is considerable public support for greater levels of participation and more accountable government. Distinctly lacking, however, is the political will at the highest levels within the Afghan government to submit to public accountability, in part due to a legacy of paranoid leaders unwilling to accept the presence or development of opposition. After a decade of democratisation efforts, a culture of patronage and top-down executive resource distribution continues to prevail. In part, this has also been encouraged by a preference (however unavoidable) among international actors to deal directly with key personalities within the executive over members of elected legislative bodies. Worse, existing powerholders have coopted the language of “democracy” in their attempts to perpetuate this culture, using it to “legitimise” their otherwise arguably undemocratic behaviour. While there exist exceptions to this rule—such as the Independent Election Commission (IEC)’s decision to uphold the electoral law in Ghazni