Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Saturday, March 23rd, 2019

Reforming IEC Before Presidential Election

As the candidates have started registering their names for the upcoming presidential elections, the political environment in Afghanistan seems to be getting more excited. However, alongside this excitement, there are different sorts of worries as well. Most important of them is that the election should be able to bring a better change for Afghanistan, which is only possible through a fair and transparent election. However, looking at the present performance of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan, it is very difficult to expect something very positive. Particularly, the performance of the commission during and after the parliamentary election has left no doubt that the commission is facing serious problems regarding its capacity to conduct a fair, free and transparent election.
The initial result of parliamentary election was announced after a long delay. Even after it was announced, there were serious allegations of fraud and misuse of power by IEC. The results of Kabul election raised further doubts and ambiguities about the commission and even Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC). Both the organizations failed to satisfy the candidates, the observers and the people of their performance.  
As a matter of fact, this year IEC will be faced with the challenge of conducting four elections: presidential election and district council election throughout Afghanistan, and parliamentary and district council elections in Ghazni. The situation is going to be very sensitive and demanding. The political and social polarization is evident ahead of the presidential election, while political and factional sensitivities are on the rise. Unfortunately, these sensitivities are based on identity and ethnicity. That is why the presidential election is going to be very sensitive, while IEC has lost its moral authority to manage it properly.
The parliamentary election also proved that no major work has taken place in the commission over the past few years though there has been huge spending. In fact, the work has only proceeded as a project. Even the digitization of the voting process did not achieve anything although it was an expensive choice to make. Opting for the same technology for the upcoming presidential election will also prove to be futile as its implementation is not only a technical issue but a political one. On the other hand, without a comprehensive computerized database available for all the voting population of Afghanistan, it is impossible to make the biometric system a success.
When, presidential election was delayed for a period of three months, the Afghan government and United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the delay in the opportunity to reform the IEC. Foreign and donor institutions, as well as the Afghan people, clearly understood that the commission, with its existing capacity and structure, would never be able to hold next year’s presidential elections. Electoral commissions also recognize this. The Afghan government rejected all other speculations in delaying the upcoming presidential election, emphasizing only the capacity-building factor in electoral commissions.
However, after the delay in holding the presidential election, the efforts of the electoral commissions and the relevant institutions should be used to make use of this opportunity to use the necessary capacity building for electoral commissions. In addition to eliminating unskilled workers and attracting qualified people at the provincial and central level, this capacity building should also include structural capacity building at the IEC level.
Reforms should not be limited to the capacity of the IEC’s ordinary people. Therefore, there is a need for reform at the core of IEC, and these reforms should include the commission’s leadership panel.
In addition, modifications to the duties and the manner of communication and coordination among the IEC offices are also necessary. These reforms should include not only the level of the center, but also the provinces. Otherwise, we will not be able to satisfy the electoral constituencies and the international community by making minor improvements.
Now that we are lucky enough to have a very objective election experience, and the government is also under pressure to hold elections, there should be efforts to make an acceptable election possible so that the people no longer experience distrust and post-election conflict, that marred the result in last presidential election and wasted valuable time of the nation.
To begin with, comprehensive and fundamental reforms in the electoral commissions are vital. At the same time, the independence of the commissions must also be ensured. Most preferably, there can be an interim government installed for conducting elections, since the past experiences have proved that the government may get involved in influencing the election commissions and the results of elections.
Undoubtedly, we have very little time to change the rules and procedures of the election. Nevertheless, we all know that our problem was not in laws and procedures, but in the structure and manner in which electoral processes were managed. Therefore, our current conditions require substantial reforms in the structure and management of the election commissions.