Unchecked and Unbalanced: President Karzai and the Afghan Parliament

The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is on the brink of a constitutional crisis with no clear solution. President Hamid Karzai’s continued ability to undercut his opposition in parliament has kept the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) from consistently conducting its day-to-day affairs and has left the body unable to effectively counterbalance Karzai’s executive authority. The system of checks and balances between the three branches of government is broken. Institutional credibility has been damaged by perceptions of interference by government entities in the electoral process.

The parliamentary elections were held on September 18, 2010 to elect representatives to the lower house. They were the fourth election in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government and the first to be conducted with Afghans in a leading role with international support. The elections were plagued by fraud, a spike in insurgent violence, and the manipulation of results. The elections were a reminder of the difficulty of holding credible elections while simultaneously conducting a robust counterinsurgency campaign. The opaque processes of ballot counting and fraud investigation gave rise to suspicions among losing candidates and spurred a call for further investigation.

This report focuses on the parliamentary elections and the increasingly troubled relationship between the executive and legislative branches. The first section describes the electoral process and preparations taken by the Afghan government and observer organizations leading to Election Day. The subsequent sections discuss contentious post-election events and decisions that have nearly deadlocked the three branches of government in the current complex political quandary.

Read full Backgrounder: Unchecked and Unbalanced (PDF)