A consultative meeting was held between Independent Election Commission (IEC) and different political parties on Wednesday, July 18, in Kabul. The purpose of the meeting was to highlight some of the basic problems in election system and listen to suggestions regarding the improvements in the process and pave the way for the 2014 elections.
The meeting was the first of its kind and must be appreciated as it had the intention of dealing with the problems of election collectively and in consultation with different political parties. However, there is a huge gap between what is intended and what is achieved. The important thing in the present scenario in Afghanistan is that practical steps must be carried out, not mere promises.
Some of the basic problems that will be major challenges in the 2014 elections were highlighted by IEC itself. The IEC head, Fazal Ahmad Manawi said that there are major challenges ahead and there are fears that the problems would increase. He also mentioned that security remained one of the basic problems for the coming elections – though not the only one. He said, "If we don't discuss and resolve these issues today, security measures alone will not help make the polls a success." He also recalled that insecurity had been a major problem during the last presidential vote.
The fears regarding the security concerns are very much real because the future of peace and tranquility within Afghan society remains ambiguous and it is also affecting the confidence of the people regarding the important development processes. Security situation can play a very vital role in Afghan's socio-political scenario.
Afghan authorities along with Western allies have to guarantee the country's security before the withdrawal process is completed otherwise it would be very difficult for the country to attain stability and discourage terrorism. It is believed by serious minds that the security of the country is largely dependent on the nature of the reconciliation process that is going on in the country and the political evolution that may take place.
Even if some sort of reconciliation is made, the country may not be able to achieve its objective of being reintegrated unless political evolution is supported through proper political amendments. Afghanistan's political system at the moment requires many amendments before it can compensate for the multi-ethnic and diverse nature of Afghan society.
Though there are many processes that are necessary for the political development in Afghanistan, the 2014 elections are going to play a very vital role. What will be the nature of the elections and how they are going to be conducted will to a large extent decide the future of political setup in Afghanistan. Elections have very decisive role in the democratic political systems. The regularity and transparency of elections provide a strong foundation to the pillars of democracy.
Unfortunately, the political system of our country has certain disadvantages in this regard. There have not been a very rich history of regular elections in Afghanistan and the ones that have been carried out have not been comprehensive enough. The last of the elections – the Afghan presidential and provincial council elections held on August 20, 2009, were widely characterized as marred by lack of security, violence, extremely low voter turnout, and widespread ballot stuffing, intimidation, and other electoral fraud.
By looking at what has happened so far regarding elections, it is not difficult to foresee the 2014 elections. There are some who even doubt that the presidential election would be held according to the schedule. However, commenting on the concerns and the election schedule, Manawi said that the presidential ballot would take place in line with the constitution and there was no need for any change in the timetable.
Article 61 of the constitution says, "The presidential term expires on May 21 on completion of fifth year after the elections. Elections for a new president should be held within 30-60 days before the end of the presidential term." Manawi also highlighted two of other major problems – lack of updated data and concerns regarding transparency.
The political parties present in the meeting also highlighted some of the major issues. Haji Mohammad Mohaqqiq, the head of Hizb-e-Wahdat and the leader of Afghanistan National Front (ANF) stressed that IEC should be made independent in the true sense.
He suggested the impartial individuals be given the vote of confidence as IEC members by the lower house of parliament. Meanwhile, Afghanistan National Coalition Head (ANC) head, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah said, "Political parties should be consulted before new IEC nominees were introduced to the Wolesi Jirgar… Political forces were concerned that the next elections could face similar threats as that of previous elections." He also mentioned that the identity cards helped little in preventing fraud and the government should have addressed the problem a decade ago.
The members of Afghan National Front (ANF) and the National Coalition of Afghanistan (NCA) have been trying to see free and fair elections in 2014. Earlier this year both of them had emphasized in a joint meeting that the political power transition in the country must be properly followed in accordance to the constitution and the Afghan government and President must ensure its proper handling. In a joint statement, they had suggested;
The announcement of the date and holding of the Presidential Election must be according to the constitution. Bringing the election date forward or delaying it is against the constitution. Despite this, according to Clause 67 of the Constitution, we would welcome the resignation of the President as a pre-requisite to holding an early election in 2013.
The statement also proposed some very basic suggestions for the improvement; it suggested for amending the Electoral Law and the Law of Organization and authority of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), computerization of the electoral process and preparation of voters list throughout the country and organizing the electoral process in partnership with the international community, especially the United Nations.
No sane mind would doubt that Afghan political system needs regular free and fair elections. So, the Afghan authorities, especially the Afghan President himself must strive to protect the Afghan constitution and make sure that their personal considerations do not prove to be detrimental for the nation as a whole. On the other hand, Western allies must put pressure and provide assistant so that the 2014 elections must be held on time and must not have the drawbacks that were present in 2009 Presidential elections.
It must be made sure that improvements are brought in the polling systems that can help the people of Afghanistan participate without complications in the elections and have their true representatives in parliament. Moreover, there are margins of improvements in the arbitration system and voter registrations. Government has to bring more innovations in this regard and make sure that maximum number of people participates in elections and elections are free and fair.