Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, November 16th, 2018

Assessing the SNTV Electoral System

It is evident that the choice of Electoral System for any country is one of the most important institutional decisions for any democracy. And it has a profound effect on the future political life of the citizens of the country concerned as electoral systems, once adopted, often remain fairly constant as political interests solidify around and respond to the incentives by them. 
However, while conscious design has become far more prevalent recently. Some experts hold that Afghanistan has not selected its electoral system consciously and deliberately. And the recent demand of the political parties calling for a change to the electoral system has exacerbated this notion. Thus, they have suggested shifting from the current SNTV electoral system to a multi-dimensional representation (MDR) system, because the MDR system would give political parties more weight in the upcoming parliamentary ballot. Further, they claimed that all political parties and coalitions had reached to the conclusion that the current electoral system would have no result for the people of Afghanistan excepted failure and a new crisis, if the current system was used.
With keeping in my mind the above mentioned points, it is necessary to have a look to positive and negative points of the SNTV and providing a viable solution to this issue.
Advantages of SNTV
The most important difference between SNTV and the plurality/majority systems is that SNTV is better able to facilitate the representation of minority parties and independents. Considering the social fabric of Afghanistan, it can better ensure the representation of the minorities and independent candidates in Afghanistan. Further, the larger the district magnitude (the number of seats in the constituency), the more proportional the system can become. As a result, there are opportunities for the political parties to benefit from the incentives of SNTV to maximize their representation. To do so, they shall be highly organized and instruct their voters to allocate their votes to candidates in a way which maximizes a party’s likely seat-winning potential. SNTV gives voters a choice among a party’s list of candidates, it fragments the party system less than pure PR systems do.  In addition, SNTV easily accommodate independent candidates and is easy to use and understand.
Disadvantages of SNTV
Based on the SNTV, parties whose votes are widely detached are likely to win fewer seats than otherwise and larger parties can receive a substantial seat bonus which turns a plurality of the vote nationally into an absolute majority in the legislature. Such consequences can lead to significant protests against the results and the system. Although the proportionality of the system can be increased by increasing the number of seats to be filled within the multi-member districts, this weakens the relations between voter-members of the parliament and other elected bodies which are highly valued by those who advocate defined geographical districts.
In addition, it may highlight the internal party fragmentation and party discord may be accentuated and it can serve to promote clientliestic politics where politicians offer electoral bribes to groups of defined voters to secure their votes. Also, parties need to consider complex strategic questions of both nominations and vote management; putting up too many candidates can be as unproductive as putting up too few, and the need for a party to discipline its voters into spreading their votes equally across all a party’s candidates is paramount. Electoral analysts argue that SNTV gives voters only one vote, the system contains few incentives for political parties to call to a broad spectrum of voters in an accommodatory manner; because as long as they have a reasonable core vote, they can win seats without needing to appeal to ‘outsiders’. Thus, they could win more seats by wooing voters from other parties by putting up candidates acceptable to them. Also, SNTV usually gives rise to many wasted votes, especially if nomination requirements are wide-ranging, enabling many candidates to put themselves forward.

SNTV as any other electoral system has advantages and disadvantages. However, considering the argument of the political parties calling the government to introduce an electoral system more conducive to political parties and terming the SNTV as old and unresponsive; the Afghan government shall look for other electoral options as well. In addition, considering the limited time to the Parliamentary and District Councils’ election and also lack of extra budget to adopt the MDR, there is no time to change the electoral system and also it needs sufficient time to be justified for the donors to support it. In addition, changing the electoral system requires to change the electoral law, which is a very political and sensitive issue that requires to consider different aspects and consequences of such a change that is impossible to come to a conclusion given the two and have months remaining to the National Election Day that on that day Afghans will elect their representatives to the House of Representatives (Wolesi Jirga) of the National Assembly and to the district councils.