Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Afghanistan: Democracy and Political Participation

Public participation in Afghanistan requires that people be at the center of decision-making processes. Therefore, this is an important element of democracy because ‘rule by the people’ is the underlying and founding principle of democracy. Thus, involving people in making decisions that concern their lives is a distinguishing feature of democratic societies. Participatory democracy, therefore, requires active and meaningful engagement of Afghan citizens in public affairs. It is a principle universally accepted as requisite for a just society. 
Thus, participation in public affairs is important in another respect. It builds people’s abilities to hold authorities to account for the implementation of decisions and actions agreed upon. It is in this respect that the Constitution of Afghanistan on Human and Peoples’ Rights recognizes the importance of participation in public affairs as an essential element of democracy.
The quest to promote participatory democracy and to make participation an important principle in the governance of public affairs has been an important theme in debates on governance in Afghanistan. Because of this, and in recognition of protracted struggles for democratic reforms, article 50 in Afghanistan’s new constitution has included democracy and participation of the people among the values and principles of governance, which bind all state organs and institutions as well as state officials. In assessing the quality of democracy in Afghanistan, there are questions whether successive governments have consistently upheld the rule of law, allowed citizens to freely elect their leaders, and whether or not people have been making political choices without hindrance. Thus, transition to democracy implies progress in both opening up decision-making processes to active participation of the people, as well as enhancing the accountability of governments to their citizens. This transition involves developing a culture of constitutionalism and accountability to citizens.
Giving people freedom to make political choices, especially in elections, plays an important role in consolidating democracy. This freedom of choice enables them to put in place an accountable and responsive government whose mandate is renewed periodically – depending on the extent to which it has governed in line with the aspirations of the people. Thus, if the elected government applies the law without discrimination, citizens obey the law conscientiously. When the government however applies the law in an inconsistent manner, citizens tend to disconnect from the government. The distance between government and society widens in tandem with the failure of government to account to society and abide by the founding principle of democracy, rule by the people.
The 2004 constitution provides for a break from the past; it charts the path for a new beginning in many ways. It reduces presidential powers, creates a new structure of governance and provides specifically for a devolved system of government where people effectively participate in the governance of their devolved units. In spite of this promise for a new beginning, it did not take long for old habits to creep back. Political parties and alliances continued to form along the old lines of ethnicity and regions. And Parliament itself introduced weak laws to govern the transition to the new beginning
This shows that the interplay of ethnicity and struggles over executive power has constrained people’s participation and democratic transition in general. This interplay revolves around the capture and retention of the over-centralized executive or the presidency. The new constitution has addressed some of these challenges by establishing strong checks on the powers of the executive and by establishing two levels of government: national and local governments. However, the electoral system remains unaltered. The devolved system of government is likely to inherit the very challenges that the constitution is seeking to address, if implementation does not effectively reflect the spirit and letter of the constitution.