An Examination of Afghanistan’s 2018 Wolesi Jirga Elections: Chaos, Confusion and Fraud

Date01 April 2020
AuthorRonald J. Barnhart,Thomas H. Johnson
Published date01 April 2020
Subject MatterResearch Articles
An Examination of
Afghanistan’s 2018
Wolesi Jirga Elections:
Chaos, Confusion
and Fraud
Thomas H. Johnson1
Ronald J. Barnhart2
This article’s primarily focus concerns Afghanistan’s ‘democratic’ electoral pro-
cesses and procedures. Fraud and other critical aspects of the 2018 election
for the Wolesi Jirga, Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, are systematically
assessed and official election data and results are examined in depth. As wit-
nessed in earlier Wolesi Jirga elections, this legislative election was duplicitous and
unrepresentative. By definition, a democratic legislature serves as the voice of a
country’s population. Assessing the voting results in Kabul, the largest and most
important province, can summarise the problems of the election. The leading ‘vote
getter’ in the Kabul Province got a mere 2.0 per cent of the vote—11,158 out
of 666,478 votes cast. Twenty-six of the elected Wolesi Jirga legislators received
less than 1 per cent of the vote. Only 23.5 per cent of Kabuli voters voted for a
winning candidate. Overall, this article paints a bleak picture of the state of democ-
racy in Afghanistan. The already restricted Afghan environment is further hindered
by operational mismanagement by the Independent Election Commission (IEC)
throughout the electoral process. The single non-transferable voting (SNTV)
system again proved to be a disaster resulting in the vast majority of Afghans vot-
ing for losing candidates and winning candidates receiving few votes.
1 Department of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, USA.
2 Open Skies Department, Fort Belvoir, VA, USA.
Corresponding author:
Thomas H. Johnson, Department of National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School,
Monterey, CA 93943, USA.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
7(1) 57–100, 2020
The Author(s) 2020
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2347797020906635
Research Article
Disclaimer: This article reflects only the views of its authors, not the views of the Naval
Postgraduate School, the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or any other
58 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 7(1)
Afghanistan, Wolesi Jirga, afghan elections, single non-transferable vote,
Afghanistan ‘democracy’
While Afghanistan has a multitude of problems, it has a very significant problem
that garners much less attention than it deserves. While Kabul consistently
professes and strives to be a burgeoning, developing democratic state, in reality it
is anything but democratic. The creation of a ‘democratic’ state in Afghanistan was
a major foundation of the Bonn Accords (Bonn Agreement; Suhrke, Harpviken, &
Strand, 2002) that served as the ‘political road map’ for Afghanistan after the USA
destroyed the Taliban regime nearly 20 years ago. Since that time, the pursuit of
Afghan democracy has been integrated into US/NATO policies in Afghanistan.1
However, many would argue that the foundations of the Bonn Accords as a political
road map (and subsequent US/NATO actions in the country) disregarded important
Afghan cultural and political realities (Byrd, 2013; Vendrell, 2012).
The purpose of this article is not to present a new theory on the challenges,
dilemmas and problems faced by developing countries as well as countries in conflict
in pursuing democratic agendas and instituting democratic processes and institutions.
Larry Diamond and many others have written extensively on the problems facing the
development of democracy in developing countries (Diamond, Hartlyn, Linz, &
Lipset, 1999). In addition, other scholars have focused on the challenges facing
democratic development in states experiencing serious conflict (Gleditsch, 2010;
Gowa, 1995; Kinsella & Rousseau, 2008; Matlosa, 2016; Zambakari, 2017). Rather,
this article’s objectives are to describe and assess the most recent Wolesi Jirga (lower
house of Afghanistan’s legislature) election held in Afghanistan in October 2018,
especially its processes and procedures. This election was supposed to have occurred
in 2015 but was postponed for a variety of reasons. This article will examine: first,
background dynamics that were important to the election, with a particular focus on
the single non-transferable vote (SNTV); second, the seemingly critical role of the
Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) relative to the election;
third, the impact of security concerns and violence on the election; fourth, a detailed
analysis of the actual elections and associated incompetence and fraud; and, finally,
conclusions and implications for future Afghanistan elections.
While it is well known that it is extremely difficult for a country that has
literally been in conflict for over four decades to develop democratic institutions
and processes,2 Afghanistan has had six national elections since 2004 based, in
part as suggested above, on the political roadmap developed for Afghanistan
during the Bonn Agreement and Accords of 2001 (Coll, 2018). Every national
Afghanistan election since 2004 has faced, to one degree or another, significant
problems with procedures, processes and results that question their democratic
nature. And, of course, elections are only one aspect of a democratic government.
Such a form of government requires democratic institutions and these, quite
frankly, are significantly lacking in Afghanistan (Lyon, 2019).
Johnson and Barnhart 59
It must also be considered that countries in conflict as well as countries going
through fundamental changes in their political and economic systems, such as
Afghanistan, often experience political decay. As suggested by Samuel Huntington,
‘what is the reason of political instability and violence in these countries? … rapid
social change and the rapid mobilization of new groups into politics coupled with the
slow development of political institutions’ (Huntington, 1968). Likewise, Donald
Horowitz has pointed out that young democracies often fall victim to the problems of
their past as they appropriate colonial institutions or Western constitutional
provisions.3 Most certainly, one of the causes of violence and instability in Afghanistan
has been the lack of the development of political institutions.
While earlier articles by the primary author have focused extensively on fraud,
the role of ethno-linguistic affinities in voting and a number of Afghan electoral
processes that require reform (Johnson, 2006, 2018a, 2018b), this article’s
primarily focus is on the Afghan electoral processes and procedures, specifically
focusing on the 2018 Wolesi Jirga election. However, fraud and other critical
aspects of this 2018 Wolesi Jirga election,4 as suggested above, will also be
examined. Finally, the actual election results will also be assessed in depth.
2018 Wolesi Jirga Election Background
The Wolesi Jirga elections were held in October 2018 in 33 of the country’s 34
provinces. Elections were not held in Ghazni for a variety of stated reasons,
especially involving Taliban threats against voters (Adili, 2019).
The initial election results saw 2,565 candidates—including 417 women—
competing for 250 seats, which were proportionally divided between the provinces
based on their population, with at least two seats per province (Chughtai & Qazi,
2018). Sixty-eight seats were reserved for women (an average of two and a
minimum of one per province) (‘The Constitution of Afghanistan’, 2004), 10 for
the nomadic Kuchi people, and 1 for the small Hindu/Sikh community in
Afghanistan. In the final tally, there were 2,512 candidates (excluding 1 Sikh and
173 Kuchi), a decrease of 53 candidates from the preliminary results, that we
assume, were disqualified during the recount/ECC complaint process.5
The 2018 Wolesi Jirga elections saw a wave of young candidates register, with
60–65 per cent of candidates under the age of 40 (Hasrat-Nazimi, 2018). This is a
significantly different dynamic witnessed compared to previous Wolesi Jirga
elections. In a society that typically privileges elders in leadership roles, this may
have been a response to the perceived corruption and ineffectiveness of the Kabul
government. However, the success of these young candidates in government is
still uncertain and presents an avenue for future research.
The vast majority of candidates ran as independents, with only 205 (8%)
registered as members of one of the 84 officially recognised political parties
(Chughtai & Qazi, 2018). The lack of large, Western-style political parties is
largely because former President Hamid Karzai had a significant disdain for
political parties and thus hindered their creation. The registered political parties in
Afghanistan, for the most part, are symbolic and play an extremely minimal role

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