Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Afghanistan: Democracy and Political Participation

Popular participation by citizens in political decision-making is one of the most important aspects of a functioning democracy. In other words, the active and meaningful participation of citizens in public affairs is the distinguishing feature of democratic societies, which are judged by the extent to which governments open up to citizen involvement in public affairs and the space they give for citizens to hold the government accountable. It is because of this that citizens in Afghanistan in general continue to demand increased space for participation.
Historically, citizen participation in political decision making in Afghanistan is a new phenomenon, because they have nearly always been denied such a right. However, the new constitution has addressed some of these challenges by establishing strong checks on the powers of the executive as well as two levels of government: national and sub-national. 
Indeed, public participation requires that people be at the center of decision-making processes. This is an important element of democracy because ‘rule by the people’ is the underlying and founding principle of democracy. Accordingly, providing the chance to people in making decisions that concern their lives is a distinguishing feature of democratic societies. In fact, Participatory democracy needs active and meaningful engagement of citizens in public affairs. That is why it is a principle universally accepted as mandatory for a just society.
Participation in public affairs is important in another respect as well. It builds people’s abilities to hold authorities accountable for the implementation of decisions and actions agreed upon. Based on this, 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 in the preamble, articles, 6, and 35 in Afghanistan’s new constitution have 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 the country, there are critical 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.
Transition to democracy in a tradition society with authoritarian governance background 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. Such a transition involves developing a culture of constitutionalism and accountability to citizens. Giving people freedom to make political choices, especially in elections, is central in consolidating democracy. This freedom of choice empowers 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. Therefore, 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.
How to secure and consolidate participatory democracy has dominated discourses on governance in Afghanistan for a long time. The struggle for political liberalization from the late 1940s was particularly informed by the need to open the political space to competitive politics after several decades of domination by the one-family regime.
Political decision making is one of the vital aspects of democracy. Afghan citizens have been neglected this right in most part of the Afghanistan history. However, the 2004 constitution provides for a break from the past; it charts the path for a new beginning in many ways. It creates a new structure of governance and provides specifically for a devolved system of government where people effectively participate in the governance decision makings. Therefore, the core democratic values of this constitution calls to be safe guarded by all Afghan citizens in order to have a better future.