Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, August 1st, 2021

Ethnic Leaders as Barriers to Institutionalization of Democracy

These days the presidential election has become a hot topic in Afghanistan but the presence of people, who are supposed to be the real source of sovereignty, are less visible. Afghanistan is one of the multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-religious countries in the world whilst these diversitities have been acting as barriers to state-building in many cases. In addition to plurality of ethnicity and religion, the weakness of communication infrastructure such as lack of connecting roads between different parts of the country, lack of qualitative educational system, and the continued  interference of its neighbor have acted as a barrier to state-building in the country. The main question here is, what factors led to the continued role of ethnic leaders acting as a voting bank in the political power relations, especially in the presidential election? Do the ethnic leaders act as obstacles to institutionalization of democracy in the country.
To find the answers to these questions, there is need for a brief overview of recent history of democracy establishment in Afghanistan. in 2001  When the Taliban terrorist regime refused to cooperate with the United States in repatriation  of Osama bin Laden, the United States and its allies toppled the Taliban regime and then many of its leaders escaped to Pakistan. At the Bonn Summit, the ethnic political leaders of Afghanistan and the representatives of the major countries affecting Afghanistan’s politics reached an agreement to establish a new political system in the country that would combine Islam, the political tradition and the components of democracy. To this end, the constitution of Afghanistan was ratified in 2003, which has been substantially better and more effective comparing to the past basic laws of Afghanistan; but whatsoever challenged the implementation of constitution is existence of an unwritten political tradition that define the relations of ethnics with the political power.
According to the current constitution, the political system in Afghanistan is headed by the president and his two vice-presidents.  Although the constitution is democratic, there is another unwritten rule alongside the constitution that states when a person is candidate for presidency, his deputies must be of the other ethnic groups, and even the position of these deputies are specified in the unwritten law. Despite the some shortcomings, the 2004, 2009, and 2014 presidential elections were held but the unwritten rule that defines the power relations among the ethnic groups, remained unchallenged. In all of the presidential and parliamentary elections, the absence of strong political parties and effective civil society led the ethnic leaders to enter into power relations as representation from demands of the people. While, in many cases, the demand of ethnic leaders have overridden the political will of people. For example, a tribal leader decides to establish a coalition, he usually ignore the democratic demands of the people.
In some cases, despite incumbency of governmental post, the ethnic leaders joined the political government opponents. What has inevitably disappointed people is alluring promises of governmental or non-governmental leaders.  In the absence of a precise mechanism for accountability, the situation returns to the previous state when the elections are held. After election they do not owe people except those who have close relationship to the leaders of the party entitled to raise their demands. Because of successive dissatisfaction and frustrations from the political leaders, sometimes people themselves enter into political deal but due to lack of a transparent mechanism for legitimate demand of people it wrap up to an instant cash deal. When people see that they cannot achieve their democratic demands and, on the other hand, political parties are degraded to family tools of some so-called leaders. In such cases there is no more option except following the interests of ethnic leaders.
In democratic societies, the existence of political parties is considered imperative for the survival of democracy. Even in developed Western countries, if people are left on their own without political parties and powerful civil society then political anomalies and inefficiencies of state institutions will emerge; hence, if the political parties are defined on the basis of modern criteria, the ethnic leaders cannot take the place of the parties because people will follow a certain ideology that defines political, economic, and cultural issues. In Afghanistan, the lack of active political parties and civil society has ensured the survival of ethnic leaders as voting bank. On the other hand, holding elections in the absence of political parties powerful and dynamic civil society changed to an on the spot deal between the political elites and people.
The Ethnic leaders use the ethnicity as a golden opportunity and renewable resource without any accountability. In order to consolidate a modern political party on the basis of democratic criteria, it is necessary to develop an appropriate political culture, and this requires raising the general awareness of society members and improving the economic situation so that people may not be compelled to sell their political destiny versus little money. Meanwhile, there is need for an ethical and political commitment of the people with the fate of their society. People are repeatedly dissatisfied from political leaders, but during the election campaign they are easily deceived and forget about the past; in this way the past is frequently repeated.
Moreover, the ethnic leaders need to invent enemy so as to survive.  In order to strengthen their political weight, they try to introduce other tribes as a common enemy to their respective tribe and this way they can define their political position by raising people’s sentiments. As conclusion, it can be said that ethnic leaders and voting banks are some of obstacles to institutionalization of democracy in the country. Political parties and powerful civil society will emerge when the level of political consciousness and awareness of the people rise, and this will only be achieved through the inclusive education and media awareness.