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Afghans Sceptical Over New Election Database

A system intended to ensure transparency in October’s polls may not go far enough.
By Mina Habib
  • Afghan workers of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) load ballot boxes to be distributed to polling stations. (Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
    Afghan workers of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) load ballot boxes to be distributed to polling stations. (Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) has launched a voter registration database they argue will be a key defence against corruption in the country’s upcoming elections. Voters and candidates, however, are less confident.

The so-called information bank logs all identity cards and monitors polling stations nationwide.   IEC commissioner Hafizullah Sayed Hashimi said that it would be effective in preventing any type of fraud in October’s parliamentary and district council elections..

 “The information bank system, created by the IEC, aims to prevent repeated and duplicate ID cards from being registered,” he said. “The system also records reports of polling stations, and once the votes of different candidates are counted and recorded to the system, then there is no possibility of manipulation.”

Claims of voter fraud dogged the 2014 presidential run-off between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, and it took intervention by then-US secretary of state John Kerry for the eventual formation of a national unity government.

The long and drawn-out process did not help already widespread scepticism about the election process in Afghanistan. Voter apathy, along with security, are among the main concerns in the run-up to the October polls.

(See Afghans Apathetic Ahead of Upcoming Elections).

A total of 2,471 candidates are running for seats in parliament – including 391 women - with 3,731 registered in district council elections. Of these, 271 are women, and Hashimi expressed concern that there were still no female candidates in 130 districts across the country.

Some of those running in the election races have yet to be convinced by the IEC’s promises that the database will ensure transparency.

Mohammad Alem Samawi, a council candidate in Baghlan’s Doshi district, said that while the information bank might help decrease the level of corruption, he did not believe it would stamp out fraud completely.

He said that local powerbrokers could still use their private militias to intimidate ordinary people and so sway the vote in their favour.

“The information bank alone can’t assure fair and transparent elections,” agreed Mahazuddin Osmani, a parliamentary candidate from Kabul, arguing that the whole electoral system needed to be professionalised so as to eliminate corruption.

Political analyst Younas Fakoor also argued that whatever benefits the database system might have, the process could still be undermined by a few bad apples within the system.

“If all IEC commissioners and employees are honest, and don’t intend to receive bribes from candidates, and abide by the rules, we can say with confidence that the election will be free of any kind of corruption and fraud,” he said. “But if these people are corrupt, no method and no system can assure the transparency of the elections.”

The Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA), a monitoring organisation, also said that information bank alone was not enough to root out graft.

“There does seem a possibility of fraud in the upcoming elections,” executive director Yousuf Rasheed said. “National ID cards are sold, IEC employees are forced to help candidates, IEC officials who work in remote areas are threatened, candidates provide fake information to the IEC, all these are factors are criminal, and they are likely to happen in the upcoming elections. We want perpetrators of such crimes to be brought to justice, but unfortunately this has not happened yet. Dozens of cases of lawbreaking were reported by the media.

“Considering all these issues, I am sure that the upcoming elections will include fraudulent acts. However, the IEC, in spite of all these complaints, says that there will be no room for fraud because they have created the information bank system.”

The challenge remains to ensure people actually do vote on election day. The registration period has been extended to try and ensure that a higher turn-out results in a more credible result. But even those who have registered are often ambivalent about just how useful their vote can be.

“Although I’ve registered my ID card at the voter registration centre, I’m not sure whether to participate in the elections or not,” said Kabul resident Mohmmad Salim, 27. “We witnessed a lot of corruption in the previous election…We believe that people’s votes are not valued; whatever the government wants to happen, happens.”