Afghanistan is a nation with multiple divisions where win-lose voting was not going to work

A letter from Peter Emerson of the de Borda Institute:

By Letters
Thursday, 26th August 2021, 8:55 am
Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

One of our many mistakes in Afghanistan was surely the notion that a divisive democracy would work in a divided society, that win-or-lose voting structures could peacefully replace that other binary decision-making process called violence.

Majority rule was problematic here, and we’re only divided into two (plus a few fractions).

It didn’t work in Bosnia, which has three competing factions (and fractions). But Afghanistan has four large ethnic minorities, and several smaller ones, with a few religious and linguistic differences as well.

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Despite the fact that binary voting is primitive, usually divisive, always Orwellian and sometimes inaccurate, it is still the basis of many democratic entities: countries, societies and parties.

Some of these therefore divide into two, left-wing and right; while divided groupings divide into multiple pairings: Northern Ireland had two ‘British’ parties and two ‘Irish’ ones (plus a couple of others); Bosnia had two ‘Moslem’, two ‘Catholic’ and two ‘Orthodox’ parties (with again a few others).

In contrast, Afghanistan doesn’t ‘do’ parties; in 2010, (the last ‘reliable’ election), the largest party gained only 7% of the seats, and 70% of the MPs were independent, attached less to a political perspective, more to a local fiefdom.

In a nutshell, win-or-lose politics was also a cause of conflict in Afghanistan.

In the 2019 presidential election, Ashraf Ghani ‘won’ by 50.6%.

Politicians then wasted the next five months arguing, before agreeing to a win-win solution: power-sharing.

It would have been more sensible to have, not only a win-win electoral system, which we usually call PR, but also a win-win preferential points system of decision-making.

Alas, despite Northern Ireland, the Balkans and many other ‘majority-vote’ tragedies, the lessons have still not been learnt, and Afghanistan is now in the hands of the winners in the win-or-lose contest of war, the Taliban.

They may or may not be no less competent in governance than others who have pursued violence, of whom NI has many.

Peter Emerson, Director, the de Borda Institute, Ballysillan Road, Belfast BT14

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