Afghanistan‘s political crisis is not simply a matter of over-centralization, expensive elections, and fraud. It also stems from the absence of the one institution that is essential for the basic functioning of any democracy: political parties. As any political scientist will argue, political parties are essential for aggregating and articulating voters‘ grievances and demands, translating them into a political agenda, mediating political participation, moderating extremism, and linking citizens to their government. Without political parties, democracy cannot thrive.
Political parties exist in Afghanistan, technically. But they play no role in the political system, thanks to the (frankly) bizarre voting system that got settled on in the Electoral Law in May 2004. The system, called the single non-transferable vote (SNTV), is used almost nowhere else in the world. Just three other states (Jordan, Indonesia, and Thailand) use versions of it for part or all of their legislative elections. The reason is that it is blatantly undemocratic and hostile to political parties.
In a normal parliamentary system, seats are allocated to parties in proportion to their share of the vote: if a party wins 35 percent of the vote, it is awarded 35 percent of seats. In the SNTV system, by contrast, the individual who wins the most votes in a given constituency is awarded the first seat; the candidate with the second-highest vote tally is awarded the next seat, and so on down the line until all seats are awarded. Regardless of how many votes the candidate wins, he is awarded one seat. In theory, the top candidate could win 90 percent of the vote and win one seat, while the fifth-place candidate might win two percent of the vote, and also win one seat.
The result is obviously undemocratic, but it also results in a highly fractured legislature composed of a few extremely popular, well-known (or feared) candidates with an independent political power base – the first-place finishers in each province.
Source: foreignpolicy.com, by Dr. Paul D. Miller