Scheduled Elections in Afghanistan – What Prospects?

(Written on 29 April 2018)

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan has announced to hold Afghanistan’s parliamentary and district councils elections on 20 October 2018, after failing to actualise similar announcements on two previously announced dates.

Incidentally, the situation on ground in Afghanistan is least favourable, and is rather detrimental, for holding elections in the country. Both Taliban and ISIS are opposed to the election by the US-backed Afghanistan government. Though ISIS does not appear to be holding large parts of territory, it has demonstrated its potential of launching deadly attacks even in Kabul. And. As for Taliban, according to the latest survey report published by BBC (1) on 31 January 2018, they threaten 70 % of Afghanistan, leaving just about 30 % in the control of US-backed Afghanistan government. In that context, a look at the following map provided in that BBC Survey Report is worth.

Scheduled Elections in Afghanistan

(Map Courtesy the mentioned BBC Survey Report)

It is a well-known fact that all through the 17 years of its military occupation of Afghanistan, US has failed to implantits desired elected governmental structure in the country through such elections. The currently emerging news relating to this scheduled electoral attemptdoes not appear promising either.  

The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) is an independent non-profit policy research and analysis organization, registered as an association in Germany and Afghanistan, and is funded in large part by Scandinavian countries (2). It has been publishing a series of reports relating to the ‘oft-announced and oft-postponed’ elections in Afghanistan. These reports succinctly highlight the serious problems involved in imposing such election.

The AAN’s Report no. 6 discusses in detail the serious problems relating to these elections scheduled for 20 October this year (3). Some of the aspects mentioned in the repot are:-

  1. Because of the inability of holding the elections on the two previously announced dates, the current Lower House of The Parliament is already existing extra-constitutionally after 22 June 2015.
  2. The snowfall season in Afghanistan is likely to commence towards the end of October. Considering the difficult terrain of the country, if snow falls by 20 October, it will greatly hinder the voter participation in the election. And, according to the ANA report, Snowfall disenfranchising voters in a politically weak province like Nuristan would be bad enough, but if it occurred in Badakhshan or Hazarajat, with their highly organised and politically and ethnically conscious voters, there could be real trouble”.
  3. However, the challenges are so formidable that other diplomats are questioning how realistic it is to expect an election in October, particularly one that is ‘inclusive’, ie where parts of the electorate are not excluded by weather or war.
  4. Senior Deputy Minister of Interior Murad Ali Murad gave a security assessment of the polling centres; mentioning that out of the 7355 polling centres, 56.6 % were located in the places which enjoy normal state of security, but the remaining 43.4 % were located in the places which were either in areas under medium or high threat, or completely outside government control”.

In this ANA’s report the particularly noteworthy are the observations: The Afghan government is the main party responsible for the mess is now finds itself in. Neither camp in the National Unity Government pushed for electoral reform immediately after they took office, as they had promised”; and Those actors in the international community who have continued to stress that parliamentary and district elections must be held in 2018 in a largely still unreformed framework are also far from being free of blame. Some appear to be worried more about the appearance of a political process progressing ‘normally’ (despite the three years’ delay already in the parliamentary vote) than about qualitatively reliable elections”.

The latest AAN’s Report no. 7 discusses in detail the deficiencies in the polling centres assessment, despite the regulations for ensuring fair enfranchisement to voters (4). This report highlights, As yet, the IEC’s polling centre assessment exercise remains deficient. If matters are not clarified, this means the integrity of the forthcoming elections is already in doubt”.

Germany’s media outlet DW has also published a report on 24 April 2018, titled A bloody start to Afghan election process (5). It highlights that the devastating attacks on the voter registration centres by ISIS / Taliban, who oppose the elections, is a serious blow even to the commencement of the election process – i.e. registration of voters. It is certainly a serious problem, because according to the data recently released by the US’ government, 56 percent of the country’s 407 districts are under Afghan government control, 30 percent are contested and 14 percent are under insurgent control.

This report also mentions the warning by the experts that the polling process this time could prove to be deadlier as the anti-government insurgents have increased their clout in Afghanistan.

Incidentally, the still more significant aspect brought forth in this DW report is that majority of Afghans lack trust in the election process in their country. In that context the report mentions the remarks of the persons who talked to DW. Just to mention – one of the Kabul resident remarked, There is no interest in the elections. People will not vote because they do not trust the process“; the other mentioned, What did other elections give us? There is no trust in this process”.

The background reason for such lack of trust of Afghan people in the election process of their country can better be understood by going through an extract of this DW report. It mentions, The last presidential elections in Afghanistan were also accompanied by allegations of widespread fraud, vote rigging and major irregularities, so much so that the IEC failed to determine the number of votes each candidate won in the runoff elections for weeks. The Afghan election saga only ended after the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, visited Kabul and crafted a power-sharing deal between the two rivals for the Afghan presidency, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. All these incidents have led many Afghans to believe that their votes do not matter, which experts say could be another major reason for low voter registration numbers”.

These emerging reports of ground realities, reported from inside Afghanistan by the credible information sources, certainly do not bode well about the prospects of the scheduled parliamentary and district councils’ elections. However, the reports also indicate that the IEC is bent upon holding these elections on 20 October this year. The outcome is therefore more likely going to be unfortunate – more political chaos, infighting, bloodshed and a US’ craftedelection result (as that of 2014), resulting in further destability in Afghanistan; and that too, further stretching to the Presidential elections in the country scheduled after some months, in 2019.