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Afghan Youth Debates: Observers Crucial to Poll Transparency

By Mohammad Faisal Nawid






Election officials in the Afghan capital of Kabul have stressed that impartial observers are essential to minimising fraud during the forthcoming presidential poll.

Sayed Abdullah Afghani, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC), told an IWPR-backed debate in the capital that volunteer election monitors were needed to ensure the transparency of the process.

Without their support, he said, the April 5 ballot risked seeing a repeat of the levels of corruption and intimidation that marred the last vote five years ago.

The 2009 presidential poll, in which Hamed Karzai was re-elected in a second-round run-off, was widely condemned by both international and domestic observers for its low turnout, poor security and widespread ballot-stuffing.

"The presence of observers at polling stations will prevent any possible fraud," Afghani told students at a packed IWPR debate held at Kabul University on January 28. "But if they fail to live up to their role, past problems will be repeated.”

The April election will be the third time the country has gone to the polls to vote for a president under the current constitution.

A total of 11 candidates, down from an initial 27, have been approved to stand, although this number is expected to fall again ahead of polling day as political rivals make deals behind the scenes.

With less than 70 days to go, analysts both in Afghanistan and abroad are increasingly concerned that if the election is contested because of evidence of large-scale fraud, it could further destabilise a nation that is already facing a difficult year. By December, NATO-led forces are scheduled to withdraw all combat troops from the country and hand over to the Afghan military.

Fahim Naimi, a spokesman for the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), told the debate that a successful poll would depend on whether election observers were able to do a good job. He said his organisation had recruited 10,000 volunteers to contribute to a countrywide network totaling 300,000 observers. Their non-partisan and professional approach would make or break the vote.

“Observers… are essential to ensuring transparency of the election process," Naimi insisted. "Observers have to make sure that no candidate is able to gain an advantage through fraud."

Fahim Seddiqi, director of the civil society organisation Sazman-e Khat-e Naw (New Line), agreed with Naimi's assessment and urged officials from the Independent Election Complaint Commission (IECC) to take appropriate action if observers uncovered any corrupt practices.

“Observers from civil society organisations are in a position to help validate the elections,” he said. "They will share their reports on polling stations with the IECC, and it will then be up to the IECC to examine those reports."

Asked by Sakhi Mohammad, a student at Kabul University, how FEFA could ensure that the observers themselves were not biased, Naimi said: "FEFA staff are not paid and they don’t have any partisan connection. FEFA obtains a commitment from observers to abide by its terms and conditions."

Mohammad Faisal Nawid is a student at Kabul University.

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.

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