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Does Afghanistan Need Its Own Michaelle Jean?

March 2, 2009

As if Afghanistan weren’t having enough trouble with Taliban fighters, drug dealers, corrupt officials, and the usual rampant poverty and illiteracy, suggestions are now circulating that the country may be headed for a constitutional crisis.

In essence, the problem seems to be that President Hamid Karzai’s term ends in May, but an Afghan body called the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has announced that the next presidential election will be held in August. This would presumably leave Afghanistan without a duly elected president over the summer, and it’s unclear who would actually be in charge. Karzai has attempted to overrule the IEC by calling for an election in April, in line with a constitutional stipulation that the election should take place 30 to 60 days before the president steps down. However, Karzai apparently does not have the power to decide election dates, and there’s also the minor problem that holding a reasonable election as early as April is thought to be logistically impossible. Some roads will still be blocked by snow, and the 17,000 American troops that Barack Obama has promised will not yet be deployed to help ensure security.

This talk of a looming political crisis will seem wearily familiar to Canadians, after the parliamentary soap opera we lived through last autumn. We can at least tell our Afghan friends that we’ve been there and we know what it’s like, apart from minor details like the fact that our mini-crisis didn’t take place in the teeth of a savage insurgency. Stephen Harper can reassure President Karzai, leader to leader, that fixed dates don’t really matter and he can have the election whenever he wants.

My next suggestion, however, is entirely serious: Afghanistan ought to have a monarch. Our Canadian parliamentary difficulties were instantly defused when Michaelle Jean, who can be sensible enough when she isn’t mixing up her mountain ranges or behaving like the Governor General of Haiti, acted on the Queen’s behalf to prorogue parliament and give everyone time to cool down and consider their positions. An apolitical King or Queen of Afghanistan could perhaps act in a similar way to resolve the contradiction between the Afghan constitution and the decision of the IEC. There are certainly other ways to smooth out the kinks that will inevitably arise now and then in a constitutional system, but appealing to a single, impartial referee worked well for Canada last year.


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2009 8:50 am

    It’s an interesting theory, and Afghanistan did have a king, at least until his death in 2007. Maybe his son could be crowned.

    Unfortunately, in the present climate I think it would be really tough to sell such an office as political; it would probably be labelled a stooge of either the West or Karzai, depending on who chooses the first appointee. And the Harper-Jean incident troubles me as a precedent for democracy-building. There are limits to the extent that simply closing down Parliament when the prime minister appears to have lost its confidence (albeit temporarily) can be seen as evidence of a functioning democracy.

    • corsullivan permalink*
      March 10, 2009 12:03 pm

      Yes, crowning Ahmad Shah, the rightful heir, is what I had in mind. Since his coronation would be in accordance with Afghanistan’s traditional rules, he could hardly be considered a “stooge” of the West or Karzai unless he started to behave like one.

      I agree that closing down parliament last year was not ideal, but I think it was the best of several not-so-good options. Perhaps it wasn’t strictly democratic, but then, our system has always combined democratic principles with another level of authority that derives at least theoretically from the crown. This isn’t such a bad thing, in my opinion.

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