Afghans deserve transparent voting in parliament

Kawun Kakar
Contributor, Managing Partner Kakar Advocates, LLC

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It took the National Unity leaders more than three months to agree on a 25-member cabinet, three of whom are women. The nominees are far from perfect and some groups and regions of the country feel left out and one nominee has even made it to the Interpol’s wanted list for tax evasion in Estonia.

Nonetheless the nominees are the result of a serious attempt, even if imperfect, to break from the past where power-broker personally dominated the cabinet. This time power-brokers were at least forced to nominate professionals, even if some of them are little known or experienced. Most are clearly qualified and deserve a fair hearing and vote in the Parliament.

The nominees will be formally introduced on Tuesday to the Lower House of Parliament for approval which has 249 fearlessly independent members.

The most complicating factor, unique to the Afghan Parliament, is that the parliamentarians vote in secret. The parliamentarians do not have to inform, let alone justify to anyone, even to their constituents, as to how he or she votes.

The secret ballot undoubtedly enables some of parliamentarians to vote on personal prejudices and through backroom and corrupt deals. And no matter how many endorsements and words of support each cabinet nominee can garner through visiting houses of the parliamentarians, promises of future or current favors, the result cannot be known until the opening of the ballot boxes.

Individuals have the right to privacy through secret ballots that parliamentarians as representatives cannot claim as a general rule 

The Afghan Parliament has thus become the Black Hole, subjecting the nominees to one of the most agonizing, unpredictable and worse approval processes. Such a process not only threatens the stability of the unity government, but also of the new, fragile democracy.

Surprisingly, few question the secrecy of ballot in the Parliament as it is viewed, erroneously, as an extension of voting in secret by individuals in general elections. Individuals have the right to privacy through secret ballots that parliamentarians as representatives cannot claim as a general rule.

Only in special and limited circumstances the vote in parliament must be in secret, such as in electing their own officers. Parliamentarians do not vote in their personal capacities. They vote as representatives of the people and hence must do so in a manner that they can be held accountable – which is a bedrock principle of a representative democracy.

They certainly have the right to carefully vet the cabinet nominees, evaluate their credentials, asses their past performances, and future plans, but must do so in a transparent and fair manner. At the same time, the parliamentarians must account for their votes, at least to their constituents, and the process should be open to scrutiny – all of which require that the voting in Parliament must not be shrouded in secrecy but open to the public.

A democratic system demands that there be light where key decisions of the country are made.

Kawun Kakar is the Managing Partner of Kakar Advocates, an international commercial law firm, based in Kabul. He was formerly an advisor to the Afghan Constitutional Drafting and Review commissions

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