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The Killid Group

Polls certain but outcome ambiguous

Written by Muhammad Raza Gulkohi
Saturday, 04 September 2010 13:05

Polls certain but outcome ambiguous

A marked lack of interest of the Afghan voter characterizes the national mood in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, indicating a poor turnout, and consequentially, greater room for fraud and manipulation.

Comparing the second parliamentary election with the earlier one held in 2005, it is apparent that the past five years have educated people about the role of their parliamentarians and how they can impact on the lives of people. On the other hand, officials in charge of conducting elections have gained more experience and can therefore be expected to hold more transparent elections and prevent electoral fraud. The question is will either of these expectations be met?

"The slogans are the same and there are more candidates this time - many contesting for no clear reason", says Saed Jawad Husaini, the head of Afghanistan's Youth Association, himself a candidate during the previous elections. Husaini thinks the elections should be evaluated on two grounds- the quality of the candidates and the nature of elections in a situation of widespread dissatisfaction with the Parliament and voter apathy.

Unqualified Candidates; Useless MPs

"During the previous elections, I voted for someone who ignored the petitions from people he represented" says Muhammad Jawid, an employee of DHL.

Nazaneen Khawri, a university student, believes voters should choose on the basis of a candidate's qualifications - something many people don't take into consideration. "Most people in our society make their judgments based on ethnic and family ties," she says. MPs elected in such a manner cannot do a good job. The 2005 elections were the same with voting patterns reflecting personal connections rather than the merit of the candidate, resulting in parliament members who failed to meet the expectations of the people.

Saed Muhammad Ali Rizwani, in charge of the National Power Party, which is opposed to the government, believes that the forthcoming elections will see a decline in voter interest, and the ineffectiveness of the Parliament and the parliamentarians will result in a lower turnout. Elected with very low votes, future MPs will not be the real representatives of the people he fears.

Rizwani however blames the non-performance of Parliament on the government, which hindered the working of the Parliament. The government did not respond to the demands of the Parliament and also ignored draft laws passed by it, thus creating the impression of a non-functioning parliament, he claims.

Despite the voter disenchantment with sitting MPs, some experts believe that 80% of the parliament will be composed of incumbent parliamentarians, atleast  90% of whom are contesting the elections. Even the 20% new faces offer little hope because they will be elected on the basis of their ethnicity rather than merit and qualification.

More fraud or less?

Insecurity has created apprehensions about electoral fraud, especially in the volatile regions. Muhammad Habibi, who was a campaign worker in Ghazni province during the previous elections, fears that the upcoming elections won't be transparent. "During the previous elections you could travel anywhere you wished to campaign and people were not afraid to vote either. But now there is no guarantee that the polling will take place at all in many areas of the province. Both the people and the candidates are apprehensive about what lies ahead." Rizwani believes that despite the positive changes in the leadership of the Independent Election Commission, fraud can be expected due to insecurity.

Jandad Speenghar, the executive officer of Free & Fair Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) also thinks that lack of security will hinder transparent elections.  "When there is no security, the independent monitoring process is compromised.  Experience in many areas has shown that when a power-broker is a candidate, they look for ways to commit fraud and create various problems for the supervising officials."

Rizwani says ballots should be counted at the polling centre and the results certified by credible witnesses including representatives of the candidates, elections officials and neutral organizations. However he is concerned that the government would try and interfere.  "There are suspicions that the government has come up with a list and of who should be elected and who shouldn't."

The Independent Election Commission in a press conference assured that there would be no government interference, no fraud. The IEC said closing down polling booths in volatile areas would prevent fraud.

Fida Nazari, a supervisor during the last elections says: "Experience from previous elections should be extrapolated to hold future elections and officials should learn from past mistakes - the Independent Election Commission must use filters to avoid fraud."

No manifestos or plans

Though many of the candidates are nominated by political parties, few of these political organizations have any specific goals and plans on how to work for the improvement of people's lives.

Husaini, the youth representative, says the ineffectiveness of parliament is due to the lack of clear goals and programmes within political parties. "In Afghanistan a political party is seen as temporary and not as a stable institution or an organization which is lasting and can have an impact on the lives of people.  That is the reason that many of the parties don't have a clear policy and no coherent programme for their participation in parliament."

Husaini also pointed to the electoral law which prohibits political parties from contesting elections and thus prevents political parties from emerging within parliament.

Rizwani, who represents the Coalition for Change and Hope, led by opposition leader Dr. Abdullah, says the coalition is working for political coherence within parliament, but this would not be possible without the cooperation of the government. He claimed that the United National Front, an earlier coalition of opposition parties, had proposed plans, programmes and solutions, but had been ignored by the government.

Facts suggest that the outlook for Afghanistan's future parliament is shrouded in ambiguity. A lack of clear policies from political parties and candidates, a lack of qualifications of contesting  candidates, the impact of  insecurity on elections and the fear of possible fraud combine to create this uncertainty, making the people of Afghanistan the victims of the difficult political situation.


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