Afghan Youth Debates: Poll Fraud Risk Looms Large

Students from Paktia University in southeast Afghanistan have raised concerns about by the potential for fraud in the April elections.

Undergraduates attending an IWPR debate on December 17 asked the panellists what was being done to increase the transparency of the ballot, and what procedures were in place to allow members of the public to report vote-rigging.

Sayed Habibullah Abedi, deputy head of evaluation and monitoring at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Paktia province openly admitted that the process "might not be free of problems".

But he stressed that the historic vote – the first time in history that Afghans will elect a new president in a peaceful hand-over of power – was something people should be proud of.

"The election may not be free of problems because it is a new process for us," he told the debate. "But the international community has a great deal of experience in these matters. It is a matter of great pride for Afghans to participate in this vote, despite the obvious difficulties."

Guest speakers at the debate, held at Paktia University, included Abdul Hadi Hamas, a cultural affairs expert and civil society activist, Rahmatullah Lewal, a lecturer in law and politics, and Sher Ali Faizi, provincial head of public awareness for the Independent Election Commission.

Law student Jihadullah asked which organisations would be responsible for supervising the election, and what systems for lodging complaints were in place. He said many of his peers were unaware of how the vote would be monitored.

Hamas explained that the IEC was responsible for conducting the elections, while its sister body, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), had a remit to investigate any allegations of corruption.

He said, "In previous elections some complaints were registered but no one took any action. This time, however, people expect a lot more from the ECC. The commission will respond to any issues raised."

Faiz assured the audience that Afghanistan was far better equipped to conduct an effective election that it had been in 2009.

He insisted that valid complaints regarding fraud would be taken seriously. and encouraged those present to support the work of the IEC.

"If there is no cooperation between the IEC and the public, it will be very hard to hold transparent elections," he warned. "Cooperation is the most important thing in this process."

Mohammad Khan Raihan is a student at Paktia 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.