Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, May 27th, 2020

The Never-Ending dead end for the Afghan Election commission


The Never-Ending dead end for the Afghan  Election commission

The importance of elections is equally alike in both established and emerging democracies. In today’s day and age, democracy and elections are synonymously used in political language. The very core pillars of any democratic society are gauged with peaceful transition of power through fairly conducted general consensus that is, Elections. Needless to say, it is the only viable option that strengthens democracy and prevents dictatorship in any given society. 
Contemporary Afghan Elections from 2004 onward are marred with rampant fraud and evident vote tampering, involving potential candidates and the very key officials of the Election commission. The Independent Afghan Election Commission), referred as IEC, was initially set up to conduct and oversee broadly acceptable and equally transparent elections across the country, a crucial mandate that it has miserably failed since the ousting of the Taliban regime, in 2001.
It is evidently apparent that the world community felt a shared responsibility to assist Afghans in building public institutions that would eventually act as strong venues for coherent and efficient public service on their own, in the long-run.  Considering the importance of a lasting legacy for the Afghan future, the donor countries provided undivided assistance in empowering electoral foundations in the country. The Afghan Election Commission was established with an ultimate aim of preserving its autonomy, demonstrate firm stance in its decisions, and above all, entrust the general public as the key stakeholders in election processes.
The IEC which was primarily destined to play a very critical role in mounting public support for robust democratic processes and act as a role model for impartiality and unbiased resolves never prevailed in performing its intrinsic mission with utter conviction and meeting public expectations. Unfortunately, government appointed IEC chiefs, eyed the executive branch for policy guidelines and electoral roadmaps. Afghan Presidents unconstitutionally time and again, casted influence over its autonomy and decision making proceedings. Former president, Hamid Karzai, would even personally handpick loyalists to oversee an election that he was a key stakeholder as a candidate and setting president. This malign political approach towards this seemingly independent commission is a prime example on why Elections in the country never scored a dominant status quo and yet again hits rock bottom like the ones before.
The blame on the commission’s shortcomings in establishing itself as a formidable independent institution somehow falls on former Afghan officials and foreign slandering intervention in the process. Afghanistan lacks the financial means to indigenously finance its elections, this liability and reliance on foreign assistance is naturally posing vulnerability, and exposes the process to foreign ill-fated meddling. Meanwhile, the legacy and precedence left behind from the previous election officials are obviously not very plausible and encouraging for the prevailing IEC leadership. They have an enormous cloud of responsibility, which is to remain steadfast in dodging any likely attempts by the incumbent leadership to alter their respective decisions and decide future course of actions for them.
It is not the first time that officials from the IEC are under scrutiny for biased approaches and complicity in electoral fraud, in retrospect, former IEC commissioners in charge of the 2014 presidential elections and recent parliamentary elections were given hefty public sentences for alleged vote tampering, and soliciting bribes from candidates, a charge that is often politically motivated, and rarely sees full blown application. We all remember the fiasco that followed the presidential elections in 2014, both the front-runners refused to accept defeat, and claimed simultaneous victory, pushing the United States to mediate, resulting in a catastrophic two headed unity government. During the last five years of this set up, the already fragile Afghan state, cracked into deeper ethnic division, alarming poverty, an exodus of fleeing brain drain, deteriorating security, and, above all, the whole episode severely damaged public trust on election’s merits and credibility. Corruption and lack of self-righteousness among Afghan public servants in many levels tempt these officials to engage in treacherous acts of betraying public trust and pushing the whole country three step backward when it hardly takes a step forward. 
The fundamental flaws lies in the Afghan constitution, this national rulebook legally tasks the president to choose all the upper management hierchy for the election commission. This in turn seriously questions the neutrality of the appointed commissioners. We know that power is addictive; individuals in power stature are naturally inclined to resist giving up or transfer authority. In comparison to furbished democracies, politics and public service are merely means for elected officials in third world states for self-enrichment and adherence to demagogic approaches. Unlike many neighboring states, subsequent Afghan governments never made an effort to put a proper vetting system in place, capable of filtering fraudulent and unqualified applicants and voters in elections.
The Afghan presidential palace (Arg), post 2001 has had a subordinate approach towards the institution, meddling in all aspect of its activities beyond policy levels, stretching to executive plans; as well as structuring the top hierchy favoring the setting president. The Afghan constitution and prevailing Election law  fall short in providing legal structure for the government in the election year; an imminent clause that sheds lights on addressing conflict of interests, proposing a caretaker government and utter profiling and vetting of prospective candidates while remaining steadfast on timelines and public deliverables.
On the other hand,  all the stakeholders in the process have failed to address the trembling electoral failures and come with a viable remedy to reincarnate the ousted credibility from the election commission and provide a safety net for all its employees who fear persecution in performing duties with honesty and public interest in mind. It is about time that the international community along with United Nations’ bodies working on electoral reforms asserts concerns on mishandling of funds, and illicit interference undermining its impartiality and autonomy. The underlying problem with IEC’s inability to keep up with electoral timelines and cut short bureaucratic red tapes is summarized as a: the ineffective manually operated process, b: Intimidation and threats posed to the officials from political stakeholders, c: Complexity and abundance of lengthy administrative hurdles.
Afghan policy makers lack the urgency and prudency to plan ahead, and draft policy guidelines in cutting down on state bureaucracy, easing access to public services replicating internationally successful approaches. Afghan status quo can no longer cast away the blame for laziness and rampant state corruption on inherited legacies and young democracy, In contrast, many other countries, transformed from regressive and corrupt oriented governance in less time than Afghanistan’s two decade journey post the repressive Talibani regime. The Afghan political elites’ take on acquisition of political office largely begins with an entourage of family and ethnic sympathizers, pre-promised public postings that inherently requires academic expertise and working know how. The scrambled administrative system of the country provides no settled bar or, at least, firm red tapes for unqualified individuals to eye and abuse public offices in any shape or form.
This election observed the least amount of participation since the first presidential elections in 2004. The total turnout is believed to reach 1.5 to 2 million voters across the country. Afghanistan’s total population is estimated around 34 million, this means the elections will declare a winner representing merely 5% of the aggregate populous. We shall not forget that chances of any election taking place on September 28th was largely at odds when key candidates were skeptical of the Taliban-American led peace process almost reaching a conclusion prior to the elections, pushing the presidential elections for an indefinite future date. This in turn, inflicted a psychological effect on major candidates and general public to demonstrate less interest in campaign rallies to the very last minute, only when U.S. president abruptly cancelled the peace negotiations through a series of tweets, making the elections inevitable.

Naser Koshan is the newly emerging writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan.

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