Political Economy in the Wolesi Jirga

June 6, 2011, 8:21 p.m.

POLITICAL ECONOMY IN THE WOLESI JIRGA: Sources of Finance and their Impact on Representation in Afghanistan’s Parliament written by Noah Coburn on behalf of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit brings to light the dilemma that arises as a result of the high costs associated with running for and becoming a member of parliament in Afghanistan, and the various sources of income candidates have access to and its influence on their actions.  The varying incentives can either make a MP more responsive to their local constituents, or it can distance the MP by outside interests taking a dominant role.  Increasingly, outside networks are playing a larger role, causing a breakdown in party platforms and providing few incentives for MPs to create support for their constituents concerns.  In order for this pattern to change the economic incentives MPs face need to be altered.

Over the past few years, Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament), has been the subject of increasing scrutiny. This is due both to the body’s unique position within the Afghan government as a potential voice of opposition, and also the formidable amount of electoral fraud and daily corruption now associated with the body. While Afghan and international observers have lamented the increasing amount of money flowing through parliament—both in terms of expenditures on campaigns and access to licit and illicit forms of funding—little has been done to systematically map out the political economy of the Wolesi Jirga. AREU research on the issue suggests that the financial considerations of MPs play an important and growing role in determining how Afghanistan’s parliament functions. This paper attempts to lay out a framework for understanding how the political economy of parliament is contributing to the undermining of representative governance in the country.

This paper looks at four basic areas of study in the political economy of parliamentarians: the costs of being an MP, sources of income for MPs from local patronage networks, the increasing role of external actors, and some of the consequences of the current system for the future of representative governance in Afghanistan. Rather than providing answers, it aims to raise questions about the system that the researchers believe are currently being largely ignored. It suggests that on top of issues of personnel, capacity or individual instances of corruption, fraud or other misdeeds, the current political economy of parliament creates certain systemic flaws in the Afghan political system. The financial considerations involved in running and sitting as an MP are changing the priorities of Afghanistan’s parliamentarians in ways that threaten to distance them from the communities they represent, stifle political organisation, and further strengthen the position of entrenched powerholders. As long as these issues remain unaddressed, they will continue to undermine representative governance in the country.

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