Afghans don't look forward to voting day

AFG181015ZH013Kabul, Afghanistan – In one month, millions of Afghan voters will go to the polls to choose lawmakers in the first locally run parliamentary election since the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001.

But due to concerns over security and especially the fairness and transparency of the vote Oct. 20, some say they won't go.

“I will not participate in the upcoming election as my vote will not be counted – I do not believe anymore that it will be a transparent election," said Mortaza Nazari, an unemployed 20-year-old living in Kabul. "Only rich guys who collude with Afghanistan’s independent election commission can win the election. So it is just a show to fool the citizens.”

Nazari says he's not happy about his decision to sit it out but has no choice, given the situation in the country.

“There is no security, no stable economy, no reliable leader and no hope," he added. "Every day there is killing, bloodshed and violence across Afghanistan. Here in Afghanistan there is no news of reconstruction or hope.”

Instead, there is worsening violence.

In the first six months of the year, almost 1,700 civilians were killed, the highest number in a six-month period since the United Nations began recording a decade ago.

As a result, the elections are considered a major test for Afghan security authorities as the Taliban and other militant groups have vowed to disrupt campaigning and voting in the run up to the elections, and have already targeted voter registration centers.

At the same time, it's a test for the fragile democracy created after the fall of the Taliban. The elections are currently being held three years late – a violation of Afghanistan’s constitution, which dictates that parliamentary elections must be held every five years.

The fact that parliamentary elections were delayed this long shows that there is not sufficient institutional capacity to apply the constitution and to hold elections on time, says analyst Thomas Ruttig, the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a research organization based in Kabul and Berlin.

"(Afghan institutions) are often very dysfunctional and Afghan democracy is more a facade than reality,” he said. "And at the moment, there are no conditions to have a halfway fair election in Afghanistan – and that undermines institutions and the belief of people in (the democratic process) even further."

The last presidential election in 2014 deeply eroded faith in the democratic process: The outcome was decided through a political deal – not votes. A power sharing deal made between current President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival, Abdullah Abdullah, allowed both candidates to win.

“There is also a widespread tiredness – not of democracy, but of this kind of democracy where you have elections and in the end you never know whether your vote really has counted,” Ruttig added.

Also, in 2014, ballot stuffing at the polling stations was rampant throughout the country and analysts say they are waiting for a repeat performance in October, especially in remote and insecure areas that are out of reach from election observers and monitors.

Meanwhile, there are issues with the candidates themselves: Almost three dozen would-be and current MPs have been banned from running by the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC), who accuse them of having ties to illegal armed groups.

Also, there is a lack of candidates in some districts, especially in the district council races, which are being held alongside the parliamentary election for the first time. Moreover, there are people who are running who do not have any political experience.

The district councils are important to Afghans as these council leaders provide a closer link to the population, especially in rural areas.

There was supposed to be electoral reforms after the last election but it never materialized, analysts said.

Naim Ayoubzada, head of the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan in Kabul, says he worries that security issues, lack of transparency and the technical challenges of ensuring a fair vote might spill over into the presidential race in April, and even prevent it from happening.

“The coming parliamentary election is a good start for the next year's presidential election – it can guarantee our democracy and can help (deepen) the legitimacy of the democratic structures," he said. “But if we can’t hold parliamentary election then holding the presidential election could be impossible. In this case, people will lose hope of democracy, Afghanistan will head toward crises, ethno-nationalism and defragmentation, and finally Afghanistan will turn into a safe haven for terrorists like ISIS.”

“Considering the current situation, deterioration of political and economic situation is more likely to be seen rather than having our problems fixed,” he added.

Ruttig says that because it took more than eight months to get final results from the last parliamentary election, the counting of votes might not even be completed by the time the April election takes place.

In spite of all the dire predictions concerning this race, and the many that want to sit it out, some still say they are excited by the chance to choose.

“The current situation is totally not acceptable, the country is in a deep political and economic crisis," said Asifa, 25, from Balkh province in the north, who asked her last name be withheld out of security concerns.

"But I (will vote) for security and political and economic stability by participating in the election,” she added. "And I vote to bring change and have peace and stability.”

Photo: Oct.15, 2018 – Kabul, Afghanistan – A poster for MP candidate Masooma Tawasuli hangs outside a carpet-weaving shop in the Qalaye Fatooh district of Kabul. The shop's owner, Abdullah Haidari, is happy about going to the polls and says that he is determined to vote for a better future.
Credit: Zakarya Hassani/ARA Network Inc. (10/15/18)

Story/photo published date: 09/13/18

A version of this story was published in The Washington Times. 
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