Afghanistan's "Lottery Effect"

Printer-friendly versionSend to friend
How the Single Non-Transferrable Vote System Effects Results in Afghanistan's Elections
Colin Cookman and Jack Santucci

For all the challenges of campaigning in Afghanistan, candidates in the upcoming elections for the Wolesi Jirga lower house of parliament can take comfort in the fact that winning a seat can sometimes be a matter of securing less than one percent of the vote in their province.

Afghanistan operates under the Single Non-Transferrable Vote (SNTV) system, first chosen by President Hamid Karzai for the founding elections for the Wolesi Jirga in 2005. SNTV is used elsewhere in Jordan, Vanuatu and the upper houses of Indonesia and Thailand.

SNTV is based on multi-member constituencies — in Afghanistan's case, a constituency is equivalent to an entire province, with an additional national constituency established for the nomadic Kuchi peoples — where each voter has only one vote, regardless of how many seats are assigned to their constituency. For example, Kabul province has 33 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, but on election day voters will select only one of the 664 candidates currently contesting there (pdf); seats are awarded to the 33 candidates who receive the highest vote totals.

An expressed goal of SNTV is to protect minority candidates and their supporters from domination by the majority; SNTV  makes it possible for members of small parties, little-known individuals and independent candidates to win seats. Female candidates in Afghanistan in particular can benefit from this feature, although a quota of reserved seats for women was also necessary for many 2005 female winners to attain a seat.

The effect of the SNTV system is large differences in the level of popular support for winning candidates, as seen in the graphic of the 2005 election results below. Some like-minded voters may cluster around a few popular candidates, leaving most candidates to enter parliament with very low shares of the total popular vote. In many cases the majority of voters in a province diffuse their support over a broad range of candidates who do not manage to attain seats at all.


Correction 09/13: A data entry error resulted in the inadvertent ommission of 17 winning candidates from the graphic below. The full list of winners is available in the spreadsheet file of 2005 election results, also available in our Resources section.

Graphing the 2005 Wolesi Jirga winners by vote share. (Click to enlarge.)


SNTV also fails to promote the development of political parties, as candidates are listed on an individual basis and the multi-member, single vote constituencies make coordinated voting by party supporters who wish to elect a block of associated candidates very challenging. In theory, voters who support the election of several candidates may identify those already likely to win and throw their support to a candidate who only needs a small margin to attain a seat; this requires a high level of voter information about who constitutes a viable candidate, however. The multi-member constituencies present further practical issues in regards to the voluminous size of the ballot papers; the Kabul ballot is spread over 12 double-sided pages.

A reconsideration of the SNTV system forms one of the key consensus recommendations for electoral reform (pdf) identified in a Democracy International survey of key stakeholders' recommendations. DI will continue its analysis of SNTV's impacts on Afghanistans 2010 elections as results come in following the September 18th vote.


Post new comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.