Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

Strong Functional Mechanism of Electoral Complaint Commission Can Ensure Transparent & Fair Elections


Strong Functional Mechanism of Electoral Complaint  Commission Can Ensure Transparent & Fair Elections

The voter registration process started on 14 April 2018 at thousands of registration centers spread across the country. Till now as of 5th June 2018, almost 5.25 million voters have been registered, including appx one hundred thousand Kuchis and few hundreds minority Sikhs. Out of these, 67% of men and 33% of women. In Kabul city, a city of more than 5 million population, voters registered are around 1.2 million. Voter registration has been extended till 07th June. Afghanistan population is estimated to be around 30 million. If 60% of population is considered as eligible voters then 18 million total voters and registration of only 29% shows that we are not able to include a large section of people in the process. Around 17% of population resides in Kabul city but Kabul voters would represent 23% of the full country voters.
In the year 2010 parliament election, registered voters were 10 million and 4.2 million voted, but this year, registered voters are almost half and the cast voters may reduce further. In spite of continued efforts on gender mainstreaming, this year voter registration could not match the gender parity of 2010. This year, women registration is less than half of men which is far below of the year 2010, when 56% voters were men and 44% women. Most of the voters are Kabul centered. Number of Parliament seats from Kabul are 33 and so 1.2 million voters would be voting for 33 parliamentarians. Outside parliament seats are 216 and 77% of voters will vote for them. Out of Kabul, seats are more than 6 times but registered voters are 4 times.
Number of registered voters and participation of women both have reduced drastically and it may be one of the relevant concern of the process and its dynamics. Drop in voter registration is attributed to insecurity but it is not the only reason. In Kabul and major town centers which are considered to be safe, voter registration is only 40 percent of voters residing. There are other factors, especially prevailing pessimism, lack of trust in the process and alienation of people from the system of governance including the Independent Election Commission (IEC). Less participation and asymmetry of participation in democracy may have their own pitfalls. 
The candidates have already started aligning themselves with their own campaigns and calculations to get votes in their favor. But, at the same time, the news of ‘Machine to print fake ID cards brought to Baghlan’, ‘Fake ID cards with voter stickers being sold’, ‘fake ID cards brought from Pakistan’, ‘concerns as fake ID cards on the increase’, ‘bribes to get ID cards fast’, ‘ALP commander detained over ID cards collection’, ‘strongmen meddling in electoral affairs’ ‘forced to submit ID cards’, ‘three arrested with fake ID cards in Parwan’ and similar more issues keep surfacing. There are reports that influential leaders have been motivating and mobilizing their supporters to get them registered. There are allegations that ID cards (tazkiras) are being bought by influential people and those are registered in block through impersonations and unholy nexus with the IEC officials.
The dwindling number of voters in each parliamentary constituency may become a fertile battleground of power dynamics of candidates engaging them in intimidation, manipulations and influence. With an ongoing conflict and insurgency in the country, the people are losing interests in election process, the founding pillar of democracy and so to restore interest, affirmative efforts are to be undertaken to reach to people. Political leadership and the government should abandon their four walls and change their approach reaching to people at their door steps. If the IEC would have created mobile registration teams visiting house to house in each locality, then registration would have been more, at least in safer areas and towns and also the number of women would have been increased enormously. Recommendation for creating Mobile Voters’ Registration Teams or MVRTs was published in one of the newspapers on 23 April 2018 under the title ‘IEC Should Form MVRTs’ to this effect. 
On the day when the registration started, President Ghani stressed transparency in elections, asking all people, including Taliban to participate in the democratic exercise. Rightly, he gave a call for a fair election to make democracy a success.  But the calls of the President are not heeded by a large section of Afghans and more so by Taliban. Moreover, Taliban went ahead with extra counter mile and attacked the registration centers killing innocent police personnel, election officials and people. There are few dozens of attacks on polling centers, UNAMA verified 23 election related security incidents till 10 May 2018. Of the 23 incidents, 10 of them involved threats, harassments and intimidation by anti government elements.
Surprisingly, on the allegation of voter registration malpractices reported in media, the IEC did not comment and did not bring the investigation reports in public. It seems that news, reports and complaints are neither gathered and nor addressed systematically and timely. A very slow process of voter registration in the beginning put IEC on tenterhooks and so, it focused more on mobilizing voters through various campaigns including calling the political parties to motivate voters overlooking the reported allegations. Recently, on 02nd June, IEC launched an information bank to help control corruption in the process of candidates’ registration. It is too late and too little. The voter registration process is almost over without almost no oversight and very few leads were pursued.  
Now, it is the litmus test for IEC to ensure that elections are free, fair and transparent and we all, including the government, police and security forces, people, political parties, international community and others should join hands empowering it to ensure that elections are held in a transparent and fair manner and no dispute emerges in the post-election era.  The free and fair election is the key to bring back trust of people to the democratic process and its institutions, including IEC and the Government.
The IEC may have to go extra positive miles for this and set up strong functional mechanism of Electoral Complaints Commission to address every complaint quickly and efficiently taking measures under the Election Laws and Afghan Penal Code. There should be multi-pronged strategy for initiating prompt action on all election related complaints with suo motu provisions of acknowledging news reports and information received otherwise, as these go to the heart of fairness, transparency and confidence building. Having a prompt and fair investigation is the basic expectation of every complainant and that’s why there are laws. Only fair and credible investigation and prompt action can bring credible accountability in the election process. IEC should focus on these vigorously by engaging skilled personnel from the Ministry of Interior, Attorney General Office and others, if necessary engaging UNAMA, to investigate each information and allegation quickly so that unlawful and unethical practices stop without affecting the integrity of the election process and corrective measures are taken to plug loopholes in the process.

The author is the emerging writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammed.g.sahibbzada@gmail.com

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