The upcoming elections, responsibilities of IEC and government security apparatus
By Mohammed Gul SAHIBBZADA-In democratic societies, elections are the basis for establishment of a representative and legitimized governments. Afghanistan has been grinding in war for the last more than four decades, wrecking destruction on our national institutions, national resources and infrastructure and this has taken huge toll on the very fabric of our society. Almost two generations of Afghan populations have grown in war and this phenomenon has caused flurry of other deprivations and miseries on this war weary nation. Despite all this, people of Afghanistan look at elections as beacon of hope and the harbinger promising future. Political parties field their candidates with specific manifesto to contest elections including independent candidates.
During last four major parliamentary and presidential elections of 2005-6 and 2010-11, men and women flocked to polling stations in thousands to cast their votes for their favorite candidates. Insurgents had not spared a moment to issue threats and warnings to people trying to stop them from casting their votes, but people defied these warnings and moved ahead to vote – sometimes walking for miles to reach the polling stations. There have been cases were insurgents have spotted ink on voters’ fingers and chopped their fingers off as punishment for voting. Violence never caused a dent in people’s resolve to support ongoing democratic processes started in 2002 in the country. But as much as people of Afghanistan presented sacrifices and endeavored to contribute towards democracy and fair and free elections in the country, institutions – including Independent Elections Commission (IEC) and government security organizations – have missed these opportunities and failed miserably to reflect peoples’ desire to bring about a government and/or parliament of their real representatives. Fraud and cheating had become widespread, corruption in the rank of IEC and security agencies responsible for organizing and conducting elections were rampant and elections were tampered at every stages in the process.
We have witnessed the results of these elections, and as a case in point presidential elections of 2014 had almost plunged the country into chaos if it wasn’t for the intervention of the then US secretary of State John Kerry to encourage the two rival candidates to join hands and form a National Unity Government. The parliament that had come into shape after 2010 parliamentary elections continue to enjoy as a law making body despite expiration of its terms more than two years ago! It is a shame to see worsening economic, political and social conditions of people’s lives despite the influx of billions of US dollars through the government channels from international community – mainly the United States of America for support and strengthening the very same conditions of people’s lives. We have seen the brightest brain draining from the country due to worsening economic conditions and lack of access to employment opportunities, and all this have been happening because members of parliament and senior government officials have formed nexus to recruit only those with kinship to members of parliament or other senior government officials – depriving large swaths of educated, talented youths who would otherwise deserve to legitimately have access to some of these opportunities. Worsening security situation and lack of good governance and all forms of evils that continue to take toll on Afghan society are the result of fraudulent elections.
The IEC and government agencies responsible for organizing and managing elections should plan for putting in place viable mechanisms to manage the upcoming elections with the least cases of frauds and cheating. One way to do so is to dispatch delegations to neighboring countries in the region including India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to observe elections there and learn from their experiences of how to conduct fraud free elections. There are elections in the state of Karnataka in India in April 2018, and it should be possible for IEC and ministry of interior of Afghanistan to constitute delegations and send them to Karnataka to observe election process, study mechanism in place and discuss techniques of management carried out. In addition, IEC should have close coordination with government security agencies for managing polling booths. For example, an external belt and interior belt of police teams should be formed at every polling booth. Both should check and control voters for their IDs and other specifics, but these police teams should not belong to a single agency. They should be from different government security agencies in order to avoid coalescing in favor of certain candidates. Also, IEC should devise a policy whereby staff recruited from one region should be sent for duties to another region in order to avoid favoring certain candidates of their kinship. These rules had been nominally in place in previous elections, but they were not implemented.
Government officials should stop using government cars, means, resources and positions to influence voters. IEC and government agencies involved in election should constitute a powerful committee whose tasks should be to watch government officials trying to influence voters. Unless IEC makes the whole election process rules based and strictly implement these rules, frauds cannot be eliminated. Governors in all thirty four provinces should be given clear instructions to provide all out support to IEC and its observers, and keep themselves impartial during the process of elections. Under the instruction of the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, a powerful and independent committee should be formed with its members coming from various security agencies, IEC and foreign observers with authority to intervene in areas that required remedy or where there is a situation. Since chances are that disputes can occur in certain polling booths in certain geographical area, IEC should put in place mechanisms to immediately cordon off that particular polling booth and organize remedial steps including recount or re-cast of votes. This will avoid ripple effects of such cases to other polling booths during elections day.
In the backdrop of continued, untold sufferings due to ongoing war on terror, and the formidable resolve of the people of Afghanistan to rebuild their country’s national institutions, bring about real representative government and parliament members, it is the one most important duty before government of Afghanistan and IEC to conduct fair and free elections.
The author is Master in Business Management – American University of Afghanistan– Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kainaat Group of Companies (KGC) – business lines include: Construction, Logistics and Trading. Established 2002–have worked at UN agency called UNOCHA as Deputy Coordination Officer (DRCO) and was responsible for four provinces i.e. Herat, Farah, Ghor and Badghis from 1999 to 2001–Also worked at various international NGOs including ICRC, Solidarite Afghanistan-Belguim (SAB), CHF and Save the Children (UK) from the year 1997till 1999–also contested two parliamentary elections of the year 2005 and 2010.