Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

Fraud as a structural challenge to fair elections in Afghanistan

Fair elections are critical for Afghanistan, because they can provide an important means of improving responsiveness by making elected officials accountable to the people who have voted to them. However, election fraud has undermined its critical function in Afghanistan. This is a challenge that many other young democracies, most often at the hands of tightly network groups of corrupt political elites, face too.
Considering the wide spread corruption and corrupt officials, there are many ways to manipulate elections in Afghanistan, including voter intimidation, forced voting, ballot box stuffing, and changing voter totals after ballots cast; of among these, manipulation of vote totals is of particular importance because it is  highly vulnerable to involve collusion between candidates and election officials. This challenge is one of the main concerns of the people and the international community in Afghanistan, an issue that has always created electoral chaos in the country.
As fraud affects many elections in developing countries, the Afghan government shall ensure it will take all the necessary measures to prevent it. Doing so, it requires the government not only study the affects of election monitoring for design of electoral policies and for understanding the causes and consequences of election fraud; but the government shall also  support research organizations to conduct independent research on the causes and consequences of election fraud to inform its policies.
Empirical research shows that corruption limits the ability of government to correct externalities. The purpose of electoral law is to ensure that election outcomes reflect the will of the electorate. However, research findings show that this function is undermined by a faulty aggregation process in previous elections of Afghanistan. Further, the effects of announcing photo quick count depend on preexisting connections between candidates and election officials. It is a clear cut fact that fragile democracies most often provide many examples of elected officials sharing rents with their networks; this approach contributes to weakening the electoral bodies and disappoints people from the election process and critically undermines the credibility of elections and electoral bodies.
On the other hand, Patronage networks has various incentives to coordinate when capturing elections. As research findings show there is possibility of multiple equilibria in corruption. In addition to this, patronage networks lead to systematic corruption and even organized crimes that can undermine efforts to build Afghanistan’s institutions, consolidate security gains, achieve political progress, encourage economic growth and create conditions for enduring stability. Currently, patronage networks is part of the government in Afghanistan, as a form of organized illicit power structure, and have access to national and international financial resources. However, such challenges are not unique to our country. In fact, the experience of the countries emerging from insurgencies and civil wars show that, all these countries have been vulnerable to such challenges to some degrees.
To overcome these challenges, Afghanistan and its allies, need to strategically focus on not only integration of civilian and military efforts to establish security, enable law enforcement, and promote rule of law, but they also shall take specific measures to ensure transparency and accountability within the critical institutions, especially the electoral institution of Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan the root causes of patronage networks and wide spread corruption goes back to conflicts started by assassination of Sardar Dawood Khan, and continuous conflicts that started since 1978. As a result, these conflicts destroyed Afghanistan’s state and civil institutions.
Afghanistan has taken many initiatives to improve IEC including development of its institutional and staff capacity, taking initiatives in terms of long term voter registration, improving IEC’s operational management, conducting of pooling, counting and results management and legal reforms. However, patronage networks has remained a major concern for all Afghanistan’s electoral stakeholders. If the government does not take concrete steps to address it properly it will create a national chaos in the country again. Therefore, Afghanistan and the international community shall develop specific tools to ensure preventing electoral fraud in the country. Some measures to ensure electoral fraud include; an election management environment with key role players who have a track of high integrity that the candidates have confidence on them, an organized civil society that acts independently, and international partners on all levels to support the electoral process, can play a significant role to ensure the electoral transparence and credibility in Afghanistan.