July 31, 2018 – For immediate publication
Afghanistan Youth National and Social Organization (AYNSO) focuses on promotion of democracy, paves the way for youth to experience its real one. Founded in 2008, AYNSO is a legally registered non-profit organization operating in 34 provinces and Kochi Tribes of Afghanistan with Ministry of Economy. AYNSO is dedicated to address the social, civil and democratic needs, issues, and problems of youth and women, and shape their social & economic development through advocacy, rights awareness, networking and capacity building programs throughout Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s next elections can set up the bedrock for sustainable democratic institutions in the country. Distrust of electoral institutions haunts Afghanistan’s prospects of inclusive and credible elections as it embarks on another elections year.
In a bid to restore public trust and confidence in the democratic process, the election law of 2016 required the conduct of new voter registration in order to prepare a polling station-specific voter list to reduce instances of electoral fraud ahead of the long-delayed parliamentary and district council elections, which are scheduled on 20 October this year.
It is imperative that before Afghanistan’s next national elections, flaws that led to widespread fraud and voter manipulation in previous rounds of elections should not occur again. Moreover, for observing the pre-election period of Afghanistan’s Parliamentarian and Districts Council’s election 2018, AYNSO has undertaken some provincial level dialogues, advocacy in monitoring gatherings at policy and national level, face to face interviews, focused group discussions and debates with youth committees of political parties and has found the following factors to be addressed for its improvements and proposes some recommendations and suggestions to stakeholders of the Afghanistan electoral system for the positive enrichment of the above mentioned national process:
Finding 1: The degree to which IEC leadership should contribute is problematic, and concerns are reinforced with the IEC’s inability to effectively respond to irregularities and its inconsistency in applying legal provisions during the adjudication period.
Recommendation 1: Make the IEC More Independent. AYNSO appreciates the appointment of new IEC commissioners before the next round of elections. A key method to ensure independence is to include a range of commissioners that are not appointed by an individual or individuals with a vested interest in electoral outcomes. The president should not have the sole responsibility of selecting IEC commissioners and the process ought to instead include key stakeholders such as elected representatives.
Finding 2: Afghanistan’s SNTV system blunted the power of the warlords and militia- based parties in the aftermath of Taliban rule. For Afghanistan’ first elections, SNTV was an appropriate choice of electoral systems, but in the long-run SNTV does not facilitate the emergence of issue based organized political parties.
Recommendation 2: Strengthen the voting System and Checks. The electoral system eventually needs to be modified either towards a district-based, first-past-the-post system, or a proportional representation system.
Finding 3: We believe that at the heart of democracy, stands the one-person, one-vote principle. Registering and enabling the NICs without an accurate voter list will make it difficult to assess how many of the millions registrants are genuine voters. The lack of a centralized voter list increases the potential for voter fraud while decreasing the ability to detect it.
Recommendation 3: Develop a comprehensive national voter list. AYNSO recommends that the government of Afghanistan and the IEC develop a comprehensive voter registration list, taken from NICs or passports, other government issued sources of identification. A national voter list would help eliminate the multiple voting by consolidating voter data and enabling the IEC to know how many ballots would be needed at each polling station.
Finding 3: A strong civil society underpins strong electoral systems. Poor voter education and understanding of voter rights and responsibilities, poor civic education adds to the turnout at the day of election
Recommendation 3: Strengthen the Civic Education. The IEC should undertake extensive voter education during interim periods, utilizing civil society organizations and political parties to reach voters. A stronger and more involved civil society will serve as a check on electoral administrative bodies and create a demand for transparency and responsiveness. The IEC, with assistance from national and international institutions, should deploy civic educators to conduct face-to-face voter and civic education programs throughout the country at the provincial, district and village level.
Finding 4: Independent media is an untold success story of the elections. Media is a new medium by which voters better understand and appreciate the electoral process. Balanced media coverage is critical to open and transparent elections.
Recommendation 4: Transfer regulatory authority to Media. Government influence should be moderated and freedom of press and freedom of speech should be guaranteed and protected for the continued expansion of Afghanistan’s independent media. Clear guidelines for media providers should be delineated and state-owned broadcasters should be subject to the same standards of reporting as independent broadcaster.
Finding 5: Misconduct of IEC and government officials, misuse of resources, can place some candidates at an unfair advantage and facilitated voter fraud.
Recommendation 5: Strengthen Measures to Prevent Irregularities and Fraud. A thorough review of anti-fraud measures should be undertaken to strengthen the electoral process. Anti-fraud measures should be clearly defined and enforced to limit the wholesale presence of irregularities and to push fraud to the margins. Prior to the next election, mechanisms to detect and disclose misconduct of IEC staff and misuse of resources should be institutionalized and strict punitive measures for candidates, officials and citizens who participate in fraud should be enforced.
Finding 6: Participation of women in the elections is crucial
Recommendation 6: Improve local conditions for wide participation of women. Women’s ability to vote and mobilize politically is largely dependent on local conditions. As previously also observed, female participation is higher in the relatively secure areas. Women can do voting, manage polling sites and act as poll watchers in secure localities. Proper voting centers operated fully be women should exist throughout the country.
Finding 7: Domestic and International observers’ watch plays vital role
Recommendation 7: The international and domestic observers can play a vital role in mitigating the corruption in elections. Domestic observers can monitor the elections, even at great risk to their lives, and their interest in ensuring open and transparent elections show Afghan concern for effective governance. They should monitor all aspects of the election process, including voter registration, candidate registration, voting and ballot counting, post-election period and final results with accreditation of IEC.
A huge number of Afghan citizens still think that 2018 election would not be witnessed with consideration of all existing hurdles and other possible barriers. Most believe seems impossible for Afghanistan to manage an election in October and any further delay would push the image of even a nascent democracy in the country into the realm of true absurdity.
Without having a comprehensive, error-free and complete voter list, favorable security conditions for polling station and people’s large interest; a sound election is a “maybe” to take place.