As preparations for the upcoming presidential election are in full swing, an estimated 9.6 million people – including 3.3 million women – who have registered as voters would go to polls to elect a leader of their choice. The democratic exercise on September 28 would be the fourth time whereby the Afghans would select their new president, although they are wary of its transparency and results due to elections’ corrupt track record. However, the electoral bodies – the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) – as well as the government, promise to conduct an improved election this time, ruling out fraud.
On the other hand, as calls for transparency in election aroused after the chaotic and fraud-tainted parliamentary election in October last year – which were marred by irregularities with its final results delayed nearly six months from its original date – a number of former election officials accused of electoral fraud were sacked by President Ghani in February this year after an investigation. They were later put on the travel ban list and finally on Tuesday, the appellate court of the Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Center handed down a verdict, sentencing 10 out of these former members of the two electoral bodies to a five-year jail term each. Those sentenced, who were subsequently transferred to prison, included eight former members of IEC including its head, and three former members of IECC.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of criticism served as a stimulant to the election bodies, which are now seemingly making all-out efforts to conduct the upcoming election as transparent as ever. As part of the measures taken to prevent fraud and electoral violations, the IEC has said that biometric system and biometric devices would be employed and operated at 5,373 polling stations across the country. If they fail to ensure transparency this time, it would come at a cost of losing their legitimacy, as well as people’s trust. The upcoming presidential election is a crucial occasion to reaffirm Afghanistan’s democracy. The process should be watched by domestic, foreign observers and election oversight institutes to ensure transparency. Meanwhile, as Afghans consider both the peace and election processes as essential, the election shouldn’t be turned into a victim of peace talks. The election shouldn’t be sold short otherwise it would pose an existential threat to Afghanistan as a democracy. Dismissal and punishment of the former commissioners should serve as a lesson and warning to the current commissioners of the bodies to act in extreme caution and remain independent throughout the polls and in tallying up votes. They should know that nobody goes unpunished.