Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

New Challenges to Voters’ Registration Process

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New Challenges to Voters’ Registration Process

Three days ago, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) informed of progress in the voters’ registration process with announcing a relatively high level of statistics. If, according to their first figure, they have registered around 400,000 voters, it shows a major a step forward and a promising improvement in this regard but according to their second figure, not only it shows a lower figure but also shows a lower coordination among the IEC commissioners.
Last year, before the parliamentary elections, though there were some problems in process of voters’ registration, they were more mental and psychological problems than being physical and objective challenges. As there was a rumor across the country that the Taliban would cut the fingers of those who participate in election or label stickers on their National ID card and this would be checked anywhere by Taliban. On the basis of their repeated announcement, they warned all Afghans to punish if they participate or assist the electoral process in the country. The rumor was so strong that madee many people, especially those who need to travel outside cities, to refuse  registering in the established voters registering centers;  therefore, their ID cards remained white until the end and as such hundreds of thousands of people refrained from the registration process, and eventually did not participate in the Elections.
But in any case, that rumor and lack of participation by some of the people in their political destiny did not result in postponement or suspension of elections. However, many parliamentary candidates did not accept the primary results of the election. Supporters of failed candidates blocked roads that connect the Afghan capital to the northern part of the country. For half of a day, the International airport of the capital was locked down due to protests related to the election. Several women candidate continued their protest almost up to the day. Given that, there are serious concerns that the upcoming presidential polls will be similarly face with allegations of fraud and incompetence.
Anyway, the parliamentary elections were held with its problems, and now we see the presence of new representatives in the national house.  In the eve of the presidential elections, it seems that there is strong interest in public participation into the voter registration process.  But apparently there are some new problems that are more real and objective. The problem is due to the fact that the election commission has opened limited voters’ registration centers only in the center of districts which is very far from remote villages and mountainous areas. While the people who remained deprived of election participation lives in the hard-to-reach geography, especially the large districts. For example, the people who live in some parts of Hecha, Patu and Khairo village of Jaghori , it takes almost 3 - 4 hours time by car to reach the Center of Jaghori, Sangi-Masha, while comparing to the small provinces or districts of the country, it takes less than 4-5 minutes by walk to reach the centers. 
Moreover, According to the new electoral law, the entire electoral process must be carried out electronically by biometrics in which case all Afghans should have been registered again. But due to the lack of sufficient facilities and lack of enough time for this work, only the enhancing registration has been decided to be carried out. In this case, only those who have not been able to label their ID cards with stickers and newly qualified for vote can come to the registration centers. As aforementioned, these centers are very limited and only considered for the center of districts which have caused widespread criticisms and problems in many parts of the country, especially the large districts. Nevertheless, the complaints have not led to positive result yet and  the Electoral Commissions have not responded to people. 
As a result, in addition to the security challenges in many parts of the country, the Afghan people are faced with another problem which is the lack of access to registration centers. Unfortunately, it is true for many districts of the highlands geography of central regions. For many parts of these districts, it takes more than one day walking for deprived people to be able to participate in the process. While for many of weak or old men and women, it is not feasible to reach the registering centers.
On the other hand, the suspension of the provincial council elections will also discourage participation in the registration process which eventually may farther weaken the election. Many people do not have much incentive to spend an entire day for merely registration. These concerns will be more serious when combined with the experience and images they have from the past elections and election transparency. Now, it is almost ten days that the registration process has been started and apparently the Commission has registered nearly 400,000 people but according to the reports received from the fields, it is much less than what is heard from the official addresses. For example, according to a report received from Daikondi, only 1,500 people have been registered and the participation is reported very weak due to mentioned reasons.
Consequently, it is expected that the Electoral Commission should make a new decision to respond to the demands of people and send  enough registration teams to the remote areas of the country. If this does not happen, undoubtedly many people will remain deprived from the election participation process and will not be able to participate in deciding their political destiny as defined in the ruling democratic system.

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

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