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Afghans Angry at Election Delay

According to the constitution, polls should have been held weeks ago.
  • Following the last parliamentary election, staff move ballot boxes at  Independent Election Commission warehouses in Kabul, September 2010. (Photo by Paula Bronstein /Getty Images)
    Following the last parliamentary election, staff move ballot boxes at Independent Election Commission warehouses in Kabul, September 2010. (Photo by Paula Bronstein /Getty Images)

Kabul’s delay in announcing a date for a long-overdue parliamentary election is damaging public confidence in the democratic process.

According to the Afghan constitution, elections should be held between 30 and 60 days before the end of any given parliamentary term. The current legislature’s five-year mandate expires on June 22.

The deadline has come and gone, but the Independent Election Commission (IEC), the body responsible for administering the process, has not officially announced that the polls will be postponed. However Aurangzeb, acting head of the IEC secretariat, told IWPR that this was likely.

“We have made all the preparations to hold the election,” he said. “We just do not have the budget. If the government gives us the budget tomorrow, we’ll will hold the election.”

At public discussions held by IWPR in Khost, Nangarhar, Paktia and Helmand provinces, participants agreed that the postponement would increase mistrust in the process, and also risked pushing the country towards a fresh crisis.

Amir Bahir, a lecturer in law and political science, told an audience at Khost university in the southeast of the country that Article 83 of the constitution made it clear that elections needed to be held on time.

“The current Wolesi Jirga [lower house of parliament] has no authority to make laws…or monitor government affairs at all once its term expires,” he said.

Sahebuddin Zadran, the IEC’s public outreach head in Khost, said, “An inadequate budget and the lack of reforms to the electoral system appear to have paved the way for the postponement of this parliamentary election.”

Emphasising that the IEC was in principle ready to move ahead with the election, he called on the government to set a date.

Mohammad Amin Shah Ulfat, the head of the provincial department for information and culture, cautioned that it was first necessary to rebuild trust in the electoral process.

“No public awareness work has been done here,” he said. “The nation has been disappointed by the corruption seen in previous elections. No one has a sense of the value of their vote now.”

Last year’s protracted, two-round presidential election was marred by claims of fraud. A total nationwide recount delayed a result until – following mediation by US Secretary of State John Kerry – Mohammad Ashraf Ghani was finally inaugurated on September 29.

Nemat Bibi Omari, the head of the Khost Justice Association, agreed that widespread corruption had eroded trust.

“This time round, both the nation and the government must lay the ground for a transparent election so that genuine representatives of the people get into parliament,” she said.

In Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan, analyst Asef Shinwari said that poor governance lay at the root of the election debacle.

“The obstacles which the government faces in holding good elections stem from the lack of proper security and an adequate budget, as well as public distrust. If these problems were solved, a parliamentary election could be held soon,” Shinwari said.

Writer and journalist Ershad Raghand said political interference by foreign and domestic actors was an added problem, although he did not name any particular country or group.

“Political structures which exploited the power of arms in the past now want to use other means to break the law and pursue their own interests,” he said, calling on civil society institutions to stand up and defend the constitution.

In Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia in the southeast, the audience heard suggestions that electoral reforms could restore people’s confidence.

“One way to ensure transparency in the election process is by distributing electronic identity cards,” said Mir Habibullah Sadat, head of monitoring at the regional office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). “I can reassure the public that this problem can be solved by using of these identity cards.”

Sher Ali Faizi, head of the IEC’s outreach office in Paktia, added, “Unfortunately, the government is not interested in the parliamentary election at all, nor is it cooperating with the IEC to enable it to announce a date.”

Abdullah Ghaznawi, a lecturer of law and political science at Paktia university, said, “Mistrust of the government and the [election] commission will rise for as long as the process is delayed.”

“Previous elections did a lot of harm,” he added.

In the southern province of Helmand, police chief Mohammad Ali agreed that the experience of past presidential elections had left people disillusioned – they felt that their votes were of no value and that politicians were elected purely through fraud.

“People are worried that the democratic process is going to be ignored and that there will be warlords, militias and conflict again,” he said. “People are worried for their property and indeed for their lives.”

Sharifa, from the Helmand department of women’s affairs, alleged that some officials were intentionally inflaming the situation to avoid an election being held at all.

“Delaying the election will widen the gulf between the government and the people,” she said. “The insurgents will then take advantage of this to create very dangerous problems for the state.”

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of IWPR’s Afghan Youth and Elections programme.

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