Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Afghanistan's Parties

Marc Herman points out an interesting passage from a recent report by the European Council on Foreign Relations:
In the longer term, the international community should begin to address a cause of the systematic instability that has racked Afghanistan for the last seven years: the absence of political parties. In most political systems, parties play a central role in selecting leaders, defining a political agenda and bridging social cleavages. Yet in Afghanistan, alliances tend to be based on ethnicity or religion rather than ideas.
It's quite heartening to see parties portrayed in a positive light, something that's often lacking in debates on political development. But it also raises a key question: why have coherent parties not emerged in Afghanistan?

My understanding of most new democracies (I'm an Americanist, so bear with me here) is that the first election is often chaotic, featuring dozens or even hundreds of minor parties, but that those usually cohere into a few major parties within a few election cycles. I believe that's the story in most of Eastern Europe, and I think that's what's been happening in Iraq in recent years. Why is this not happening in Afghanistan?

I'm just guessing here, but I'd surmise that one of the reasons that minor parties can see past their differences and coordinate on elections is because there's a big payoff for winning: control of the national government. That still doesn't mean a whole lot in Afghanistan. The national government has never been very strong there and still has trouble coordinating actions and enforcing laws across such rugged terrain. So there's not much incentive to integrate parties.

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