Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, June 17th, 2019

Deepening Democracy: Election Management in Afghanistan’s Divided Society

Elections in Afghanistan tend to widen long-standing social, political and tribal fault lines. By their very nature, elections are adversarial and divisive, triggering violence notably in countries that lack strong democratic institutions or struggle to manage diversity. Elections have generally failed to nourish cohesion: polls have divided people rather than uniting them. Elections are marred by a remarkable decline in civil citizenship resulting from the preponderant rise of sectarian mobilization, violence and intimidation.
However, in the context of populism, disregard for the rule of law and extremism, elections have become a liability for emerging democracy in Afghanistan. As the UN former Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon rightly observed, “diversity may be a source of creativity and growth” but when poorly managed, it “often becomes a source of unhealthy competition, conflict and instability.
In Afghanistan, Free, fair and peaceful elections are possible where mandated institutions are able to ensure integrity of the electoral process. As the political crises demonstrate, electoral violence is more likely to occur when the electoral process lacks integrity, when there is a perceived critical departure from the accepted rules that govern the process. Efficient and strong Afghan electoral mechanisms are needed to underpin credible elections and transform elections into an asset. Electoral integrity is necessary to turn elections into instruments for promoting social cohesion and inclusion, creating political legitimacy and effective management of diversity. Internal democracy within political parties is becoming necessary in entrenching democracy and electoral management bodies are increasingly called upon to administer free, fair and transparent party nomination processes in the country.
In Afghanistan, the Independent Election Commission (ECC) has a role to play in electoral dispute resolution. Credible election management system is central to democratic stability. Lessons and good practice from across Afghanistan will go a long way in improving electoral management systems and practices to deliver results with integrity. However, preventing electoral violence in Afghanistan requires a multistep approach that takes into account the full electoral cycle and the multiplicity of actors involved in the process. It also requires taking specific measures to eliminate loopholes identified from previous elections, guaranteeing inclusivity and the rights of all Afghan citizens, and responding to vulnerability to divisive political rhetoric and violent extremism.
For free, fair and credible elections, a lot of responsibility is placed on IEC and ECC, which are responsible for managing the electoral process and elections that produce results acceptable to candidates and the electorate. This entails creating a level playing ground by ensuring all actors adhere to rules. For the IEC to be independent, it needs to be supported by the media, political class, the civil society, the judiciary and members of the public when it is attacked. On its part, the ECC should act according to conscience and the law.
Public confidence in the IEC is very important at the national and local level. Experience from Afghanistan’s 2014 elections suggests that the level of trust in the IEC at the National and local level were low. However, it is early to judge about the final judgment of the people about Independent Election Commission in terms of 2018 Wolesi Jirga Elections, but the overall feed backs of the people, political parties, Civil Society Organizations and Mass media suggest that the level of trust in the IEC at the National and local level is even lower than 2014.This suggests that it is important for the ECC to maintain constant dialogue with politicians who matter at the national level. It is the Duty of IEC and ECC, and all Afghan citizens to ensure Democracy in Afghanistan make good progress.