Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Buying Votes: Political Legitimacy in Afghanistan

Many Afghans believe voters are bribed – sometimes, often or always. This is a particularly chronic problem in Afghanistan. It is one of the main factors behind electing corrupt candidates. Money has become a dominant, determinant factor in our politics. As a matter of face, the poor are likely to be victimized by vote buying because their limited means makes the vulnerable to material inducements, including offers of basic commodities or small amounts of money. For many poor people voting is nothing but an opportunity to sell. In this context, Vote buying is a simple economic exchange – candidates ‘buy’ and electorates ‘sell’ votes.
In vote buying transactions in Afghanistan, voters are usually provided money, commodities such as food or clothing, and jobs.
According to Afghanistan Electoral Law, 2016, Article 99 (section 15): Buying and selling of the votes have been considered as the electoral crimes and their punishments are that the perpetrator of the crime mentioned in section (15) shall be sentenced to medium-term imprisonment of up to three years. While vote buying is subject to punishment, the attainment of compliance to this legal provision remains a challenge.
Vote Buying at multiple stages
In many Asian countries vote buying takes place prominently during campaign period, in Afghanistan it takes place at multiple stages of the electoral cycle and electoral experts believe that it takes exceedingly during voter registration, nomination period, campaign and Election Day. It also occurs at various institutional  levels in the polity – for example, in the legislature, where votes are bought to illegally enact laws that would favor particular individuals or specific groups.
Voter Registration Period
Politicians in Afghanistan understand the importance of voter registration and pay potential voters to register to vote at elections. In this process, many voters are mobilized in preparation for the elections. The amount that would be paid to the voter in exchange for the voter card is not fixed. In previous registration exercises, registration officers sold voter cards to politicians of opposing camps and this resulted in accusations of insufficient registration materials. The introduction of biometric system in 2018 elections is likely to reduce drastically incidents of voter card buying in future elections. And it is one of the good initiatives that can increase transparency of the future elections in Afghanistan.
What can be done to stop vote-buying?
Afghanistan has made significant gains in enhancing the legal framework to guide against vote buying through the Electoral Law 2016. However, Afghanistan needs to address some of the notable inconsistences and potential loopholes in
the Electoral Law. Secret ballot is essential for electoral integrity in Afghanistan and is one of the main devices used to restrict vote buying. What counts is that how this principle of ballot secrecy is ensured and applied because secret voting is not only a right on the part of the voter but an absolute obligation. The provisions in the legal framework regulating control and security of the ballot, as well as the provisions governing the casting of a ballot at the polling station, should ensure ballot security in all parts of Afghanistan. This would be a very difficult task for the IEC to ensure it in the remote areas of Afghanistan due increasing insecurity and presence of the illegal armed groups in these areas.
Vote buying increases the costs of elections for candidates and people, and may prevent credible candidates from running for political office. Most importantly, it rears cynicism among voters, who feel disenfranchised by a corrupted system that fails to adhere to democratic ideals. Afghan ordinary citizens have been the main victims of vote buying; even if they have sold such votes themselves. Because, it has enabled corrupt and unqualified candidates to be elected as the representatives of the people and they have just changed to one of the main causes of corruption in the public administration system and are the one of the main causes of weak quality of basic public service to the Afghan citizens.