Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghanistan: Voter Registration Centres Out of Reach

Locals complain of having to travel unreasonable distances for the chance to participate in upcoming polls.
By Khan Wali Salarzai

Residents of the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar are warning that a scarcity of voter registration facilities means that many people – including in main population centres - are simply not registering to vote.

Even those living in the provincial capital Asadabad say they are being forced to travel long distances to register. Amid ongoing security risks, this is proving a powerful deterrent to participation in parliamentary and district council elections due in October. There are fears that women, whose movements are already restricted by Afghanistan’s conservative cultural traditions, are likely to be most affected.

Parwaiz, 27, lives in the Dandono are of Asadabad neighbourhood of the provincial capital. He said that although his area was safe, the only way to register to vote was to travel for nearly an hour to a centre in Nawabad.

“Most people, especially women, haven’t registered their ID cards so far,” he said. “If a voter registration centre is not established in the Dandono area, I believe most residents will be deprived of their right to cast a vote.”

Others agreed that even relatively secure areas were poorly-served by registration centres.

Mohammadullah, who lives in Lachgali in Asadabad, said, “Our area is located on the highway between Asadabad and Jalalabad. This is the most secure area in the whole of Kunar, but there is still not even a single are still voter registration centre. We have asked the provincial governor’s office and the Independent Election Commission [IEC] to establish a centre here, but it has not been set up yet.”

 “On one hand, people’s awareness level is low, and on the other, the security situation is not that good that people dare to travel far to register themselves,” added Qazafimal, who lives in Asadabad’s Doshakhil area. “Moreover, men in this area don’t allow their women to travel such a long distance for registration purpose.”

Shah Jahan Sardari, a representative of the IEC in Kunar, told IWPR that the province had been allotted 137 voter registration centres. Out of this number, 67 were operational, but seven centres in Nari, Dangan, Watipor, Narang and Shigal – as well as two in the Ghazi Abad district – had been closed due to security threats.

He said that around 900,000 people had so far registered in Kunar province, including more than 24,000 women, and that the IEC was pleased with the progress that had been made.

“It is due to the support and cooperation of people including tribal elders, religious leaders and civil society activists that the registration process is going well,” Sardari said. “So far, we have not faced any challenges.”

He did acknowledge some concerns about the long distances that had to be travelled, adding, “Residents of some areas have complained that the centres are located very far from them; we’ve shared these concerns with central office in Kabul, and we look forward to a response and instructions in this regard.”

Civil society activist Mohammad Shoaib Gharwal said that he had also been working to raise awareness of the upcoming elections and the importance of voter participation.  This had included simply ferrying young people to and from the registration centres.

Sohaila Baber, director of the provincial department of women’s affairs, said that she was extremely worried about how access for female voters.

“In order to encourage women to participate in the elections, we’ve run public awareness campaigns by reaching out to many villages and private homes,” she said, warning that this would have little impact if registration centres were too remote to reach easily.

 “Women cannot travel to these centres with full confidence to register,” she continued. “We have heard some complains from women who want centres to be located in areas more suitable for them to access. We’ve shared their complaints and requests with the provincial governor’s office and the IEC, but have not received any positive response yet.”

Kunar provincial council head Haji Walayat Khan said, “Some of the residents came to the provincial council and complained about the lack of voter registration centres in their. We shared their messages with the provincial governor’s office.”

Security is the major challenge to the upcoming elections, with voter registration centres in a number of provinces coming under attack. Kunar, which borders Pakistan, is particularly unstable.

Fareed Dehqan, spokesman for the Kunar police chief, said that their assessment showed that 64 of the province’s voter registration centres were considered to be low risk and 26 at medium risk, with a further 47 thought to be at high risk of insurgent attack.

However, he encouraged people to go out to register.

“So far, there have been no problems in Kunar province. In order to keep these registration centres operating, we have taken some precautionary measures…[and] we have provided good security, so citizens can go to these centres with confidence,” he said.

Voter registration for the parliamentary and district council elections began on April 14, 2018. According to the IEC, 1,500 voter registration centres have been established in all the 34 provinces across the country, employing more than 10,000 people. More than five million people have registered so far, including 1.5 million women.