Afghan Youth Debates: Election Complaints System "Still Young"
Building electoral systems in Afghanistan will take time and voters must be prepared to be patient, a university lecturer told students at an IWPR-backed debate in Mazar-e Sharif in the north of the country.
Sayed Mostafa Habibi said institutions like the Election Complaints Commission (ECC) were still in their infancy and were bound to experience teething problems in the run-up to presidential and provincials on April 5.
Habibi compared the holding of elections in Afghanistan to looking after a "young child". Any newly established democracy would inevitably require careful nurturing, he said, adding that genuine progress towards more open and accountable government was being made.
"The phenomenon of elections is new to Afghan society," he told students. "It is something that’s young and fresh, like a child. Developing a democratic system takes time, but we must continue our efforts.
"We must create a kind of convergence in Afghan society where we have religion on the one hand, while using the opportunities and technologies available to us to improve social welfare and development, on the other. It’s no surprise that there are problems."
Set up in 2009, the ECC will adjudicate on cases of alleged fraud during the coming presidential and provincial polls. Its remit includes overall responsibility for addressing allegations of bribery, vote-rigging, registration fraud, and threats of violence against election staff. It can impose fines, order recounts, and rule on objections concerning the eligibility of candidates.
Abdol Wakil Hotak, a spokesman for the ECC, said despite the organisation's relative inexperience, no one should doubt its integrity or independence. He said any of its staff found to be breaking its rules would be referred to state prosecutors.
"The attorney general's office can observe and monitor the commission's performance, and if there are violations, it can address them," he said.
Rakia Mohammadi, spokesperson in Mazar-e Sharif for the non-government Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), also spoke to the students attending the debate.
She told them said her organisation had achieved real successes in recent months, including holding seminars and workshops for female candidates standing in provincial elections.
FEFA will seek to ensure that "democratic processes are implemented transparently through citizen participation and good governance," Mohammadi added.
Mohammad Arif Anwari is a student of journalism at Balkh University and an IWPR trainee.
This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.