Grant Kippen: Small, Positive Steps for Democracy in Afghanistan

The following article was written by Grant Kippen, past chairman of the Electoral Complaints Commission in Afghanistan. For those unfamiliar with Kippen’s pivotal role in the 2009 presidential election, check out John Geddes’ profile of Kippen from late 2009. He sent me this piece, and I post it with his permission.


Slowly, important changes are happening in Afghanistan.

With all the focus this past week on the WikiLeaks release of US State Department documents it was not hard to overlook a significant milestone that occurred in Afghanistan, as the country continues its journey towards instituting the rule of law and building stronger, more independent democratic institutions and processes.  The event occurred on Wednesday, December 1 when the Independent Election Commission (IEC) released the final results for Ghazni province, the last of the 34 provinces to have the results from the September 18 Wolesi Jirga (parliamentary) elections certified.

The announcement brought closure to an election that was widely acknowledged as being exceptionally difficult by any international standards.  The degree to which fraud took place was on a par, if not greater, than what occurred in last year’s Presidential and Provincial Council elections, driven in large part by the intense competition amongst the approximately 2,500 candidates for the 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga (Parliament).

While there are inevitably many more losers than winners in any election, the maxim is not entirely applicable in this instance, since the actions of the IEC have clearly signaled a win for the people of Afghanistan.   Despite coming under intense pressure from various actors, including the Attorney General’s Office and the Complaints Committee of the Meshrano Jirga  – who have no legal authority over electoral matters – the IEC resisted efforts to have them accept a political solution in Ghazni.  After careful deliberation and following the results obtained from their own investigations the IEC went ahead with the certification of the final results.

At Wednesday’s press conference the Chairman of the IEC, Professor Fazel Ahmad Manawi eloquently stated, “Our decisions are not driven by issues by tribe, ethnicity or language, but only by law.”

Afghans should take pride in the words of Chairman Manawi and the accomplishments of the IEC this year for their actions signal renewed hope for the long-term prospects of the electoral process and representative democracy in their country.  Donors should also pause to reflect on this achievement knowing that against the backdrop of the myriad challenges facing Afghanistan some positive progress is taking place.   It is not all doom and gloom in the country.

However, neither Afghans nor the international community should be lulled into a false sense of security thinking that work in this area is anywhere close to being completed.   In the short-term vigilance will be required in order to head off any potential retribution directed towards officials of the IEC or spurious attempts to re-write the electoral law, as was the case this past February

Electoral reform is desperately needed in Afghanistan in order to address the significant shortcomings that played out so publicly in the 2009 and 2010 elections.  This should be the first priority of the incoming Parliament (Wolesi Jirga) and the international community needs do everything it can to ensure that the mistakes made between the 2005 and 2009 elections are not repeated.

Now is the precisely the time for Canada to renew and redouble our efforts in this area by working with Afghans as they continue to build their nascent democracy.  Let’s use the momentum that the IEC has created so that the next elections are less fraudulent, more inclusive, credible and transparent than has been the case to date.
Grant Kippen

Past Chairman,

2009 and 2005 Electoral Complaints Commission