Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, August 19th, 2018

Role of Political Parties in a Democratic System

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Role of Political Parties in a Democratic System

A political party is an association formed by a group of people who share the same ideas about a country’s governance.  Every citizen holds a constitutional right to organize with like-minded citizens to form a political party and to attain some common political goals.  The right to form a political party is derived from the constitutional right of association, free speech, and equal protection. A political party is a voluntary association formed out of the free will and consent of those who created it.  A political party upholds certain principles regarding public policies of a government.  A political party seeks to attain and maintain political power within a government. So, political parties can play essential roles such as opinion-making, acting as a watchdogintroducing candidates, bridge between government and people, and propose useful political programs.
In the other words, every citizen can participate in this process – by freely acceding information about political issues, by openly expressing the own opinion on public affairs, by formulating expectations, proposals or requirements without fear of repression, by voting in elections, by engaging in civil society organizations or political parties, or by standing up as a candidate in democratic elections. In this way, democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Unfortunately, the political parties which are the central institutions for a modern democracy have not been formed yet in Afghanistan. The current parties are more likely, to a personal business firm heritable from a father to the sons and grandsons. However, the new Afghanistan’s constitute enable the political parties to operate openly and this is for the first time in history that they are fully legal but they never have performed their role and function as it was expected, somewhat, like modern society. In modern political system, they should exercise an important function in a democratic system as a “watchdog” of government policy and as a political alternative in the future, and expected to express itself on all issues relevant for government. Parties are expected to propose views on domestic and foreign policies, economic and social policies, and youth and civil policies etc. In order to meet these requirements, each party should have certain platform and programs.
Legally, the parties are inherent to the political system, but in practice they remain outside it, or at least relegated to the sidelines. Their strength has never been measured by full and unhindered participation in elections. This has prevented any ‘natural selection’ based on voter mobilization or the number of votes received, that usually curbs the number of political parties – which is seen as excessive by many in Afghanistan.
In fact, political parties have no factual place in the system; as a result of an election they hold a place as individuals since Karzai era. they maximum serve as voter mobilization machines during times of election, while, in between elections, they drift back into insignificance and hold no influence on their leaders’ politics. Additionally, this has led to the emergence of a two-class party system, with some parties (or rather their leaders) within this parallel system and all other parties outside of it.
This is particularly the case in the parliamentary elections, where candidates are free to identify themselves as members of a certain party (although many do not), parties as such are unable to play an official role. Most significantly, in the current electoral system, which is individual-based, parties cannot field lists of their candidates, there are no parliamentary seats reserved for political parties, as in other countries, and parties are not allowed to establish factions in parliament. The latter provisions, even more paradoxically, have never been laid down in any legislation, yet they are still adhered to.
Based on these and lack of transparency, it was very late whenofficials from Afghanistan’s mainstream political parties reiterated calls to the Afghan government and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to pave the way for them to play a greater role in the election process. These parties threatened to suspend their cooperation with the IEC if the election management body failed to address their demands. They alleged that the IEC has been playing a double game in dealing with political parties. The election strategy for political party participation was sent to government, the international community and the IEC months ago, but to date, no action has been taken, officials said.  According to officials from these parties, discussions were held with President Ashraf Ghani. They said Ghani was not focused on the issue.
The election commission meanwhile said the political parties’ demands have been lodged too late but they will put all possible measures in place to prevent electoral fraud.  They said instead of boycotting elections, political parties should cooperate with the commission in monitoring the election process. “The voter registration process has some problems and challenges, but in total I can say it will be transparent,” IEC commissioner Sayed Hafizullah Hashemi said. According to the IEC, so far around nine million people have registered to vote in the upcoming parliamentary and district council elections. Out of this, details on about 250,000 voters have been entered into the voter database. The IEC said they have not picked up any irregularities as yet regarding this process. 
By and large, without political parties, a modern representative democracy is not conceivable. Only, the parties ensure that the citizens are permanently capable to act politically. They articulate and integrate different interests, visions and opinions. They are also the main source for the recruitment of political elites. On the other hand, political parties are not able to play a constructive role in the country unless they start the reforms from themselves. Political parties should not be formed on the basis of sectarian criteria but merely on the basis of national and meritocracy.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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