Clearing the Way for Fair Elections

By Cunningham, George | The World Today, October/November 2018 | Go to article overview

Clearing the Way for Fair Elections


Cunningham, George, The World Today


The scene is now set for a new cycle of potentially controversial elections in Afghanistan. Elections to the Wolesi Jirga, the country's parliament, and for the first time district councils, have been scheduled for October 20, the former already three years late. But these are regarded as just the opening scene for the battle royal ofthe presidential election on April 20, 2019.

International donors are determined that the parliamentary elections timetable should not slip any more, despite continual setbacks. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is helping the Afghan government prepare, backed by a group of international donors offering support, ideas and about €100 million to stage the 2018 elections, with more money in the pipeline for the presidential poll in 2019. The European Union has launched a project to counter voter fraud.

International supporters ofAfghanistan are keen to see progress in the democratic development of the country before a conference of donors takes place in Geneva in November.

Bitter memories of previous elections abound. Most Afghans believe they risked life and limb to vote in the 2014 presidential election and that the results were 'stolen' by a US-brokered compromise between the two candidates in the run-off vote that led to the formation ofthe Afghan national unity government.

Re-legitimizing the government and legislatures through a fresh set of elections is seen by donors and the Nato alliance, which leads the 16,000-strong training, advice and assistance mission in Afghanistan, as key in the battle against the Taliban.

The two sets of elections are running hand-in-hand. Voter registrations for the 2018 elections will be valid for the allimportant presidential and provincial elections in 2019.

The population of Afghanistan is estimated at between 28 million and 35 million, with less than half being ofvoting age. The registration exercise has had to deal with more than a million Afghan refugees, who have been returning from Pakistan and Iran since the start of 2016, and the many people internally displaced due to the fighting. Some 9.6 million voters are said to have registered for the elections, a third of them women. This is much better than the foreign donor community had dared hope for given the volatility of the country's past. But there are concerns that many of the registrations may be fraudulent.

The Afghan authorities have introduced new fraud mitigation measures to cut down the risk ofballot stuffing, where one person casts numerous votes. When each citizen registers to vote, a sticker is placed on their tazkira, or identity card, to confirm their registration. But these measures may be being circumvented.

The Afghan Central Civil Registration Authority has issued 4.5 million identity cards this year but many stickers have found their way to the marketplace to be bought and attached to spare identity cards. Certain commanders are said to be collecting their security forces' identity cards and presenting them for stickers at voter registration centres. The registration of voters by a proxy, including men using their identity card to register an entire family, has been banned, but still happens.

Some 700 staff have been brought in to enter details of all registered voters on a database that spots any attempt at multiple voting. However, the civil registration authority has yet to begin digitizing the identity cards issued this year. Voter lists will be available for public scrutiny shortly before the election.

The number of registered people is to be compared with the number of eligible voters in each province and discrepancies investigated. …

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