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EU Envoy Says Afghan Voting System 'Impedes' Democracy

The top EU representative in Afghanistan, Vygaudas Usackas
BRUSSELS -- The top EU representative in Afghanistan, Vygaudas Usackas, has called for wide-ranging electoral reform in the country.

Usackas was speaking to a small group of journalists in Brussels on September 28 ahead of an appearance at the European Parliament.

"Afghanistan needs to have a pretty profound electoral reform," Usackas said, adding that in its current form, the system used in parlamentary elections inhibits the formation of a multi-party system.

"The current 'single non-transferable vote' system impedes any kind of development of political parties, and only provides voting for individuals," Usackas said.

The "single non-transferable vote" system is regarded by some as encouraging patron-client relationships within constituencies, in which powerful and popular leaders can apportion votes to their supporters.

In Afghanistan's tribal setting, the result tends to concentrate power in hands of clans, rather than ideologically positioned political parties.

Usackas said this runs counter to the demands of democracy.

"The development of political formations is the bedrock of any democratic system," he said.

The EU envoy said the EU is ready to support electoral reforms that provide larger scope for political parties. He also suggested changes to that effect could be introduced within the framwork of electoral reforms promised by President Hamid Karzai within 90 days after the Kabul conference which took place in July. He said the abolition of the "single non-transferable vote" system could become a "legacy for Karzai as he finishes his second term."

He also indicated a poblematic electoral system is only the tip of the iceberg among problems besetting the country.

Usackas said Afghanistan urgently requires a new census to help it compile credible voters' registers.

"We don't know how many inhabitants [there] are in Afghanistan -- is it 20 million or 40 million?" Usackas said. "How many eligible voters are [there]? There are no proper voters' register."

But Usackas also observed the idea risked antagonizing the "sensitivities" among "some Afghans."

Usackas said that the September 18 parliamentary elections had demonstrated the Afghan population's "courage and appetite to exercise their democratic rights."

The EU diplomat noted there had been fraud -- although he told the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee that it was "difficult to say to what extent it was done."

Usacklas warned that the credibility of Afghanistan's electoral watchdogs -- the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission -- is now "at stake."