|The 2010 elections to the House of the People (Wolesi Jirga) were the second to be held after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
In the previous elections held in September 2005, most candidates ran as independents. Candidatures could be submitted by political parties but party endorsements were not allowed on the ballot paper. Several sources reported that President Hamid Karzai's allies won between 65 and 118 seats while the opposition force, the National Understanding Front, obtained between 60 and 80 seats. Successful candidates included 20 former Communists, tribal and religious leaders, businessmen and 68 women.
In the presidential elections held in August 2009 - marred by widespread allegations of fraud - President Karzai triumphed over Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, when the latter withdrew from the run-off elections scheduled for November. Mr. Abdullah had called in vain for changes to the election commission to ensure "fair and transparent" elections.
The 2010 parliamentary elections were initially called for 22 May, but the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced in January 2010 that they would be postponed to autumn 2010. The IEC cited budget problems, security concerns and logistical hurdles.
On 17 February 2010, President Karzai issued a presidential decree based on Article 79 of the Constitution, thereby amending the Electoral Law of Afghanistan (see note). Among key changes, the decree grants the President the authority to appoint all five commissioners to the Electoral Complaints Commission. The presidential decree can be nullified only if both chambers agree to do so. While the House of the People (Wolesi Jirga) rejected the decree on 31 March, the House of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) overruled the lower chamber's decision. The House of Elders stated that the Constitution prohibits parliament from discussing amendments to the election law in the last year of the legislative term.
Mounting insecurity in the war against Taliban insurgents, cast a shadow over the 2010 elections, with military and civilian deaths reaching record levels. The number of civilians killed in the war rose by 31 per cent in the first half of 2010, reaching 1,271. 500 foreign troops were killed in the same period, compared with 521 for the whole of 2009. The US Government plans to gradually withdraw its troops from July 2011. Holding credible polls was seen as a key step for Afghan forces towards taking control of the country's security by 2014.
On 23 June, the election campaign officially started. In all, 2,447 candidates, including 386 women, were vying for the 249 seats in the House of the People. Sixty-eight seats are reserved for women and 10 for Kuchis.
Although party endorsements were allowed in 2010, most candidates still stood as independents: only 9 per cent of the candidates were formally affiliated to a political party. In all, 194 outgoing members (78%) of the House of the People sought re-election. Ethnicity continues to be the main factor influencing political alliances. Of a population of 30 million Afghans, about 42 per cent are Pashtun and 27 per cent Tajik; Hazaras and Uzbeks each account for 9 per cent; the remainder being Aimak (4%), Turkmen (3%), Baloch (2%) and other (4%).
Campaigning was lively in secure large cities such as Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat. It was more limited in the southern part of the country, where the Taliban influence is strong. Young candidates in urban areas used mobile phone text messages, Facebook and Twitter in their election campaign.
Many candidates called for social justice and respect for human rights. Many women candidates pledged to confront gender bias and cultural obstacles for women, in order to build a better future for the next generations.
The Taliban called for an election boycott, announcing that it would disrupt the 2010 polls. On 5 September, it stated that anyone associated with the poll would be a legitimate target. In the run-up to the poll at least 23 people, including four candidates, were killed in election-related violence.
The Council of Ministers declared polling day a public holiday to facilitate voting. Ballot papers with photos and pictograms were used to facilitate the procedure for illiterate voters, who account for 72 per cent of the overall population. The Taliban claimed responsibility for over 200 attacks on polling day, on which at least 11 people were killed. Nearly 15 per cent of the 6,835 polling stations did not open owing to security concerns. About 45 per cent of the 9.2 million registered voters turned out at the polls.
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) reported that its observers had witnessed a number of serious election-related incidents, including attacks on polling stations and voters. However, its preliminary statement concluded that it was too soon to ascertain the impact of those events on the broader electoral process.
The announcement of the preliminary results initially due on 9 October was successively postponed to 1 December. The results showed a high turnover: only 88 outgoing members were returned to the House of the People. In all, 69 women were elected.
Since most candidates stood as independents, the distribution of seats according to political parties is not available. Pashtuns, the country's traditional rulers, won around 90 seats, compared with 112 obtained in the 2005 elections. Being the main allies of President Karzai (who is Pashtun himself), support for President is believed to have been reduced in the new legislature. The decrease is partially due to the fact that voting did not take place in some Pashtun areas.
Hazaras, a minority Shiite community accounting for 9 per cent of the population, emerged as a major force, winning 59 of the 249 seats (23.7%). Hazaras took all 11 seats in the Province of Ghazni, a flashpoint in the nine-year Taliban insurgency.
The defeated presidential candidate Mr. Abdullah said more than 90 of his supporters had won seats. Mr. Abdullah is associated with the Tajiks in the Panjshir Valley (north of Kabul), the stronghold of the late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. Several sources indicate that the Jamiat-e-Islami - a jihadi party led by former president Burhanuddin Rabbani - increased its share in the new House of the People.
Before the publication of the final results, the Election Commission discarded over 1.3 million ballots - nearly a quarter of the total - for fraud and irregularities and invalidated the results of 19 winning candidates. Over 100 complaints of fraud were filed with the Election Complaints Commission. Several incumbent parliamentarians contested the results. The President of the House of Elders, Mr. Hazrat Sebghatollah Mojaddedi, said the announcement of final results of the parliamentary election was illegitimate. On 20 December, President Karzai's spokesman announced that the newly elected House of the People would be convened on 20 January 2011.
On 27 December, President Karzai set up a five-member Special Election Court (SEC) to hear complaints of fraud, which was subsequently approved by the Supreme Court. All five members were appointed by the President. On 3 January 2011, SEC Head, Mr. Sediqullah Haqiq, said that his court would issue rulings within two weeks, so as to allow the inaugural session of the House of the People to take place as scheduled.
On 11 January, the Constitution Oversight Commission (COC) - established by President Karzai in May 2010 to oversee the rule of law in government offices, as well as in legislative and judiciary bodies - stated that the creation of the SEC was illegal. Although some winning candidates supported the SEC, others argued that election complaints should be examined by the existing Election Commission and the Election Complaints Commission.
The SEC urged President Karzai to delay the convening of the House of the People by one month so as to allow it enough time to resolve election disputes. Newly elected members insisted that the House of the People be convened. Following mounting pressure, President Karzai announced that the House of the People would be inaugurated on the condition that the SEC would continue its investigations.
On 26 January, President Karzai inaugurated the newly elected House of the People. However, the House of the People failed on successive occasions to elect its new Speaker.
On 10 February, Acting Speaker, Mr. Sarwar Osmani, announced that the SEC had decided to unseat 83 of the newly elected members. On 12 February, the House of the People adopted a resolution asking President Karzai to disband the SEC. However, the Attorney General backed the SEC and issued a warrant authorizing prosecutors to recount the votes at the IEC.
On 27 February, the House of the People elected Mr. Abdul Raouf Ibrahimi as its new Speaker.
On 23 June, the SEC ruled that 62 sitting members would have to be replaced because of alleged poll fraud. Two days later, the House of the People voted to dismiss five senior members of the Supreme Court, accusing them of failing to block the SEC's decision.
The amended law sets new qualifications for candidates to run for the presidency. Candidates are required to hold a bachelor's degree and to make a deposit of 2.5 million Afghanis (about US$ 57,000), which will be refunded only if the candidate wins or receives at least 10 per cent of the valid votes in the first round of the election. The deposit for candidates to the House of the People was set at 30,000 Afghanis (just under US$ 700), reimbursable if the candidate is elected or receives at least 3 per cent of the valid votes cast in the respective constituency. Previously, a deposit of 10,000 Afghanis (approx. US$ 230) was reimbursable if a candidate obtained at least 2 per cent of the valid votes in the constituency concerned.