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Afghan women arrive to cast their vote during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Editorial: Looming insecurity, fraud in run-up to polls

Afghanistan is going to choose a new president next Saturday; however, every election that Afghanistan has had over the past 19 years has been riddled with fraud and marred by violence. This is while the Taliban insurgents have already warned to target the upcoming polls. Following their attacks on a campaign rally and a vice-presidential candidate, Amrullah Saleh, the tempo of their assaults will translate into many people deciding to stay away from polling stations in fear for their lives. However, this is also possible that Afghans might defy security concerns to turn out in large numbers and give a democratic mandate to any prospective government in talks with the Taliban because the continuation of the republican system as at stake. At this stand, with few days left for the fate-deciding democratic exercise, dealing with two looming issues, namely insecurity and fraud, warrant serious heed.

First of all, the current number of registered voters is around nine million, whereas only 3.6 million ballots were cast in last year’s parliamentary vote and the last presidential election had an eight million turn-out. If this election has to be different, security assurances and winning voters’ trust are key for making them emerge in the stated number. Hundreds of thousands of people, who have already been disenfranchised by the war, might get deprived of their right to vote because of the security apprehensions and the Taliban warnings – something that necessitates serious attention. Adding to the concerns, about a third of the 7,366 polling centers were announced to remain shut because security forces couldn’t protect them. However, this time the improvement of allowing those whose nearest center untowardly gets closed on the Election Day to vote elsewhere is laudable because, in the past, registration was usually tied to voter residence. On the other hand, there is disillusionment with the process as a whole. The turnout is likely to be dented as people have become disenchanted with the exercise, given its track record. There are serious concerns about the effect of fraud and people believe the upcoming election would be a re-run of the 2014 contest because the feuding President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah are seemingly at the forefront again – with yet another 15 candidates to cope with.

In the run-up to the big event, the issue of security and fraud must be handled and overcome. Reportedly, a 70,000 police force has been dedicated to protecting stations; however, the number should be further expanded and even help from the military and volunteers should be sought to make the election the most secure. The biometric system should be employed in the best way possible in order to cut down on any kind of rigging, including ballot-stuffing, ghost voters and duplicate voting. The imprisonment for five years for graft of the former chairs of both the country’s election commission and the electoral complaints commission earlier this month would serve as a lesson for the incumbent commissioners to not dare violate from the laws. If this election were to avoid the past crises with results acceptable to all, the issues of security and fraud should be given top priority.

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