With approximately 2,500 candidates running for 249 seats in Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections, it is hard to predict the outcome of each race in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and what it will mean for the power and independence of Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga, or lower house. Most Afghans and internationals believe that the Independent Election Commission, the lead organizer of Afghan elections, has made improvements since the fraud-ridden presidential and provincial council elections in 2009. But enormous challenges remain related to the absence of a voter list, the overproduction of registration cards, a weakened Electoral Complaints Commission, the Single Non-Transferable Vote System, and the near absence of political parties. Of course, the biggest obstacle is security, which has deteriorated dramatically from even a year ago. No province is safe, and insurgents (and even candidates) are resorting to violence and intimidation in all areas of the country.
The real question is: who will this parliament represent – the ordinary Afghan, President Karzai, or entrenched powerbrokers and warlords? The view from the north of Afghanistan is pessimistic, with many Afghans expressing concerns that the parliament will serve as an office for self-enrichment, business advancement, and the expansion of personal power, rather than as a vehicle for helping average Afghans. Their concerns revolve less around Karzai than the entrenchment of warlords and the continued neglect of the average Afghan, who has few means of influencing his or her government and holding the powerful to account for their abuses.
But despite the insurgent night letters, assassinations, and unlevel playing field for parliamentary candidates, most Afghans we have spoken to expressed support for holding these elections. They have not given up on democracy yet.This article was originally published in Foreign Policy.