Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, February 18th, 2018

Will IEC hold a sound election in Afghanistan?

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Will IEC hold  a sound election in Afghanistan?

After long arguments, the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) has completed its formation team with selecting the new chief, Gula Jan Abdul Badi Sayad, by an intra-organizational election process last Wednesday. Wasima Badghesi and MahazullahDawlati have been elected as the deputy chiefs of the Independent Election Commission. Gulajan Abdul Badi Sayyad previously worked as spokesman and secretary of Afghanistan Independent Election Commission.The voting for the election of the new election commission chief organized more than two weeks after the last commissioner, Syed HafizullahHashemi, was appointed by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
These follow long term disputes andthe dismissal of former chairman of Independent Election Commission as raised doubts over whether parliamentary and council ballots scheduled for next year will take place as planned. He had faced pressure after repeated delays in election process and had lost the support of both Ghani and disillusioned foreign donors. Succeeding a contentious presidential election in 2014, marred by allegations of massive voter fraud on both sides everyone emphasizes on the need for successful elections next year. The bitter 2014 presidential election produced no agreed winner and led to a U.S.-brokered deal which saw former rivals Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah forced into an uneasy coalition that has struggled to win popular support. Eventually,it took months for both candidates to agree on a US-brokered deal to form a “national unity government”.
Thelegal term ofParliament alreadyexpired in mid-2015 but polls were postponed due to concerns over whether the vote could be fair and transparent after a disputed presidential election as explained.President Ashraf Ghani extended the assembly’s mandate until elections were feasible, prompting many to question the legality of his decision.The otherquarrels occurred over selection of new commissioner; according to the Electoral Law, President Ghani was supposed to appoint a new commissioner from amongst the 14 remaining candidates suggested by a selection committee in 2016 for the IEC within two weeks’ time. The IEC, in its new composition, would then elect a new chairman from among themselves.  However, it was argued that none of the candidates were sufficiently qualified and, as a result, decreed that the former selection committee should reconvene in order to enlist new competent and experienced individuals.
Accordingly,no one is sure if the new and unexperienced IEC has the ability to hold a successful election despite numerous challenges and barriers exist ahead election process: Firstly, there areextraordinary logistical problems due to extremely rugged terrain and poor means of transportation. Secondly, the security risks are dramatic as an estimated 40 percent of the districts are highly volatile. Thirdly, in spite of the IEC receiving significant amounts of support going back to 2002, the election authority has lost many of its most experienced professionals at its headquarters and provincial offices.
Fourthly, elections in Afghanistan face strange integrity risks owing to a myriad of fraud and malpractice problems. ACCRA, on the other hand, is expected to manage and implement its first nationwide ID card(Taskera) distribution programs toapproximately 10 million people prior to a 2018 poll.This wasfinally proposed by the IEC is to create a totally new “paper based” voter register and issue tamper-proof registration receipts to all eligible voters. Voters would first be required to show the national ID card in order to register.
Moreover, the Afghan government insists that it does not have the financial ability to finance elections alone and, thus, needs the support of the international donors. According to the IEC, an estimated 210 million dollars is required for holding parliamentary and district council elections. While it is said that only 100 million dollars are promised by donors and 40 million dollars are available in the Ministry of Finance. This falls short of the IEC estimation of 210 million dollars required for the parliamentary and district council elections. This clearly indicates that there is no common understanding between the IEC and donors about the budget to finance the elections. On the other hand, Afghanistan itself lacks the financial ability to finance anenormous operation, such as elections, and thus has heavily relied on international donors for funding ever since the first electoral cycle in 2004/05.
The other issue is limited deadline as set July 2018 but officials from international partners including the United Nations told the Afghan government that even under the most favorable conditions, the earliest date on which an election could feasibly be held is October 2018.
While Many Western diplomats believe even that date is impossible. If not ready by October, Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain, bad roads and lack of security mean that registering voters and setting up balloting stations across the country are likely to face severe delays over the winter months, potentially pushing the date into the next year.
Given the aforementioned issues and lack of enough legal reformation in election system as was committed, there no prepared bed to ensure a transparent election in Afghanistan. On the other hand, variouspolitical groups especially the insurgents, will also struggle to interfere or challenge the process in their own interests.In an ideal situation, resolving each of these challenges would require sustained technical expertise, honesty and enough time to overcome the issues.This process extremely needs national and international supports otherwise it may cause farther political crises and severely harm democratic process in the country.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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