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Asia

Fears of political vacuum in Afghanistan

Afghan parliament's current term is set to end soon but the country's government has so far failed to set a date for fresh elections, raising concerns over a possible political vacuum. DW examines.

There are growing worries of a fresh political crisis in the war-torn country as the five-year term of the nation's parliament is set to soon come to an end.

The Afghan government has yet to announce a date for fresh elections, triggering discussions among lawmakers and experts over the legitimacy of the South Asian nation's bicameral legislature after its term ends in less than two weeks from now.

According to Article 83 of the constitution, the mandate of the current Lower House of parliament expires on June 22 after the elections and the new assembly starts its work.

Although the parliamentary elections were originally planned for April this year, the government of President Ashraf Ghani failed to hold them due to a lack of agreement among various political factions in the country. As a result, Afghan people have not been able to elect a new parliament.

"From our point of view, if the situation continues in this way, Afghanistan's democracy will not live for long," said Nor Mohammad Nor, spokesman for the country's Independent Election Commission. He called on the government and international community to pave the way for elections as early as possible.

Violation of constitution?

Afghan lawmaker Ramzan Bashardost describes the situation as "catastrophic," warning of a looming political vacuum and violation of the constitution. "If we do not have people's approval, then any decisions we make after the end of our term on June 22 will not be legitimate," Bashardost said in a DW interview.

But not all parliamentarians share Barshdost's views. Mohammad Farhad Azimi, Afghan MP from northern Balkh province, argues the constitution has linked the end of parliament's mandate to fresh elections and, according to him, as long as there is no new parliament in place his work is legitimate.

However, the problem in Afghanistan is it lacks an institution that clarifies the constitution in these situations. A commission intended for this purpose has thus far failed to materialize, leaving the constitutional provisions open to divergent interpretations, say analysts.

No realistic solution insight

Although the constitution states the president can extend the parliament's mandate by four months, Afghan election officials warn it would not resolve the current problem. "If we start preparing for the election today, we will need at least one year to hold fresh elections," Nor said, citing budget, staff and security issues.

"While the security situation is deteriorating, the government and international community haven't provided us the financial resources, and our reform agenda has not yet been seen by the Afghan president," he added.

The parliamentary election will also play a crucial role in strengthening the country's fragile democracy, particularly in the wake of the 2014 presidential election which was overshadowed by allegations of massive fraud.

The dispute over the outcome of that vote only ended after the United States mediated, leading to the creation of a national unity government with Ashraf Ghani as president and his rival Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive, a newly-created post. Both agreed to bring reforms to the electoral system to avoid fraud and vote rigging in parliamentary elections.

No real progress

However, even after ten months of President Ghani's government, no real progress has been made on electoral reforms due to disagreements between Ghani and Abdullah over who will head the commission set up to execute electoral reforms.

"We will have an illegitimate parliament or a government without one. In both cases, the consequences are dire for Afghanistan's democracy," Kabul University lecturer Humaira Haqmal told DW. She said in case of an "illegitimate parliament," it will not be able to oversee government affairs and question it in an effective way.

Unless Afghanistan finds a way out of this situation in time, experts warn, this could mean a huge set back for both Afghans as well as the international community, which has spent billions of dollars over the past 14 years to support the democratic process in the conflict-ridden country.

The government's failure to set a date for the postponed elections has reportedly already prompted several foreign aid donors to cut their financial and developmental assistance, dealing a blow to the country's future economic and security prospects.