Prague, 21 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Bismillah Bismil, chairman of the Afghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body, announced on 20 March that a firm date has been set for the country's first post-Taliban legislative elections.
He says the voting will include ballots for Afghanistan's 34 provincial assemblies as well as the "Wolesi Jirga," or People's Assembly -- the lower house of Afghanistan's bicameral parliament.
"The Joint Electoral Management Body, after careful consideration, has decided that the elections for the Wolesi Jirga and provincial assemblies will be held on Sunday, 18 September 2005," Bismil said.
"That's one reason why this election [for district councils] has been delayed: No one knows what the population is. And then, the districts are divided on the basis of the population. So unless you have reliable statistics, you don't know how many [local district] councils you are going to have, how many representatives [in the upper chamber or parliament] you are going to have, or how many representatives are going to come from a certain province."
But Bismil says it will not be possible this year to conduct more complicated local elections for district councils within each province. "Due to some technical and logistical problems, we cannot hold the district-council elections this year," Bismil said. "It is up to the Wolesi Jirga [to resolve outstanding issues related to] the borders of the districts. And then we shall be able to finalize the dates for the district council elections."
Under the Afghan Constitution, the Afghan president appoints one-third of the members of parliament's upper house -- known as the Mushrano Jirga, or Assembly of Elders. The provincial assemblies and local district councils within each province also elect delegates from among their members.
But the lack of district councils has forced the Joint Electoral Management Board to improvise. It says a temporary upper house will be created so the parliament can function until district elections are held.
Under that system, there will be 51 representatives in the temporary upper house. Each of the 34 provincial assemblies elected in September will send one representative. The remaining 17 seats -- one-third of the total -- will be appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Musa Maroofi is a professor of political science and law at Kabul University who helped draft Afghanistan's constitution. He tells RFE/RL that the system for creating a temporary upper house appears to follow the spirit of the constitution:
"The language of the constitution is very clear about this," Maroofi said. "And it says that the president will elect the remaining one-third [of the upper house of parliament] from experienced and knowledgeable people. Now if that one-third comes to 17, then that is the figure. So I think the commission will be very mindful to abide by the letter and spirit of this article."
Meanwhile, UN officials working on a census project to determine the population of Afghanistan have told RFE/RL that their work could take another four to five years.
Maroofi says that until the information is available, nobody knows how many district councils will be in each Afghan province.
"That's one reason why this election [for district councils] has been delayed: No one knows what the population is," Maroofi said. "And then, the districts are divided on the basis of the population. So unless you have reliable statistics, you don't know how many [local district] councils you are going to have, how many representatives [in the upper chamber or parliament] you are going to have, or how many representatives are going to come from a certain province."
One thing is clear, however. The most populous areas of Afghanistan will have relatively fewer representatives in the temporary assembly than the constitution envisages.
For example, as the most populous province in Afghanistan, Kabul should have the greatest number of seats in the Assembly of Elders.
Instead, it will have only one provincial assembly representative -- the same as less populous provinces.
Maroofi suggests that such a system, if made permanent, would violate the constitution. "What is important is that each province and each [district] council is given equal opportunity to have fair elections and send as many representatives as they have a right to send," Maroofi said.
Still, Maroofi says, the need to get a parliamentary system working justifies the creation of a temporary upper house:
"They are trying to first of all get the right statistics for those [electoral] borders, at the district level, to be certain," Maroofi said. "Otherwise, they're going to make a big problem. It can make a crisis. And we're talking about ethnic boundaries as well. Many can complain. In order to prevent the emergence of such complaints and crises, they have to first of all make sure that they have the right [population] statistics and that the inhabitants of each district trust those figures."
More than 10.5 million people will be eligible to vote in the elections for the 249-seat lower house in September. About 50 political parties have registered.