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The Killid Group
Voters Wonder What Will ChangeWritten by Killid Reporter
Wednesday, 15 September 2010 15:42
As the country goes to its second parliamentary elections since 2001, the uppermost question in the minds of all Afghans is whether the polls will bring any change in their lives.
Increasing violence in conjunction with weak governance has led to widespread disenchantment. In this context many of Killid interviewees see Parliament as another piece of a corrupt, self-serving and ineffective state machinery, not least because of a lack of appreciation of the real role of the legislative body. For some, the cynicism about the role of elected parliamentarians has been increased by the experience of the past five years.
Tayeba Afghan is a 38-year old widow trying to bring up three children and she says she will not participate. "I will never vote because it has not brought any change in our living situation."
Mohammad Hussein Mesbah was an active member of the campaign team of a parliamentary candidate (who he will not name) in the 2005 elections. "At that time Afghans believed their representatives would represent them, help to solve their problems and that most of their demands would be granted", he says. However the electoral victory of his candidate was followed quickly by disillusionment. "I worked hard for the victory of this candidate but we never saw him after the election. He only returned to the area this month seeking re-election."
The campaigns of the parliamentary candidates also contribute to the confusion and the eventual disillusionment as many of them make promises to deliver services like roads, health facilities, jobs and other basic necessities, something over which they have no direct control.
Sayed Zia Danish, editor in chief of the Keramat weekly magazine, believes that most of the current parliamentary candidates - over 2,400 at the time Killid went to press- are not familiar with the authority and duties of a parliamentary representative and that is why they make the promises.
Abdul Jabar Qahraman, a candidate from Helmand province has built his campaign around job creation but has not provided a plan on how to solve the problem. Another parliamentary candidate's campaign slogan says: "my goal is ensuring social justice". The candidate, who is a tailor by profession, was not available for an interview to clarify his vision of this goal.
Slogans are chanted without any understanding of their meaning, such as that of Sayed Mohammad Alavi, head of the Jihad-Danish Educational Center, whose campaign posters say: "One of all and all for one". Another candidate promises to "serve you during the day and night", something most find unbelievable.
On the contrary, there are people who consider voting as an important civic task notwithstanding the shortcomings. If people do not participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections it would impact negatively on the process of democratic participation in politics and damage the process of democracy in this country says Dr. Hafizuallah Asadi, head of the Science Educational Center.
"Our representatives promised to change our living situation dramatically if they won the seats in the lower house but we have not seen any change in our life yet", says 58-year old Mohammadullah, who participated vigorously in the last round of parliamentary elections.
Din Mohammad Jawid, an Afghan law expert and Head of Afghan Social Research Center says "if the candidates knew what expectations they raised on the basis of these slogans, they would surely feel ashamed about writing such promises on their posters and billboards."
Jawid feels that the previous Parliament was one of the most ineffective in the history of the Afghan Parliament taking into account the earlier parliaments including during the time of the Soviet supported government. He believes that MPs in the last lower house did not fulfill their role, especially in terms of holding the government accountable and providing an oversight on its performance.
The mismatch between promises and delivery has created apathy amongst voters. "I am busy with my job and I don't know the candidates in the forthcoming election and when the election is", says 29-year old Abdull Azim. Ms. Najiba, who is 25 and from Paktia province, is similarly ignorant about the date of the election, but she wishes there was someone to help poor people.
One of the main issues raised by the forthcoming elections is that of how to keep out undeserving and inefficient candidates from the parliament. "Higher education and other high qualifications should be mandatory as it is in other countries, in order to keep out inefficient and ineffective candidates", says Mr. Jawid. Such mandatory requirements would also prevent the proliferation of a large number of candidates, believes Abdul Hamid Sofat, a lecturer in Balkh University.
A major concern has been the participation of those perceived to have criminal backgrounds. "Most of the candidates have criminal records", says Sayed Shaker, a resident of Mazar-e-Sharif. "They are involved in war crimes and they want to secure themselves by winning seats in Lower House, as they are assured of their immunity since the adoption of the Amnesty law by the Afghan Parliament."
Research analysts share this finding. Writing in a report published by the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, Noah Coburn notes that some of the new candidates are "a group of influential commanders who chose not to run in 2005", but have now seen the "clear financial benefits of securing a seat and feeling reassured by a continued culture of impunity."
Mr. Shaker feels the number of candidates with a history of past crimes outnumber those who are well educated and clean, and says that unfortunately the Afghan electoral law has not specified any mechanism to prevent their nomination.
Though there is a vetting process which is expected to exclude candidates convicted of past crimes or with links to armed groups, the disqualification process has been one of the most contentious parts of the election.
In the absence of a robust justice system there have been next to none convictions for any past crimes, making it impossible for the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to exclude candidates on the basis of hearsay even though there might be common and public knowledge about the involvement of these candidates in criminal activities.
On the exclusion of candidates with links to armed groups the IEC is dependent on the recommendations of the vetting commission, whose work has been criticized.
Some of the candidates disqualified by the IEC say the process was unfair. Mostafa Etemadi, from Daikundi province, believed he was disqualified because he is critical of the government. Though he was disqualified on grounds of links to armed groups, he claimed this was not correct. "Unfortunately there were some people who did not want me to be in the lower house of Parliament," he says, adding that these people were able to persuade officials in the Ministry of Interior to find evidence to disqualify him.
While most disqualified candidates have protested, even those with links to armed groups, what has cast a shadow on the process is that it did not operate on fair principles which were applied equally. Etemadi, for example, said that he was informed of the decision only 24 hours before the deadline and not given sufficient time to defend himself.
Jandad Spinghar, spokesman of the Afghan electoral observer group FEFA (Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan), believes that the insufficient time given to disqualified candidates was legal but unfair. He also criticized the IEC decision to disqualify those candidates who had resigned from government positions to contest the elections but whose resignations had not yet been processed by the government.
Even before the start of Ramadan, candidates had already put up a large number of posters and banners, especially in Kabul, where there are more than 600 of them contesting for 33 parliamentary seats. The income of the Kabul Municipality may have increased dramatically because of this.
"Each candidate should pay 3,000 Afs ($60) per square meter poster to the municipality", says Rahela Kohestani, Head of Cultural Services Department in the Kabul Municipality.
Candidates have to take the permission of the municipality before fixing their billboards and posters as the municipality has the sole right of providing permission on how and where the posters and banners are to be fixed. Some candidates however feel the charges are too steep.
"Though I built my billboards by myself, I still have to pay 3,000 Afs per square meter," says Haji Ramazan Husseinzada, a candidate from Kabul. He adds that he has spent 150,000 Afs ($3,000) just on payment to the municipality for his billboards and posters so far.
Mohammad Zaher Abasi cannot afford that expense. A cultural activist, his campaign is through word of mouth and through a network of friends and relatives. "Though I have good ideas and effective strategies on how to represent people in the Parliament, I don't have the money for a widespread campaign", he says.
Transparency under Insecurity
Polling in the September 18 elections will take place in a situation of insecurity with the insurgency having a considerable impact on at least 22 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan. The Ministry of Interior says they do not have enough police to ensure the security of candidates. The period ahead of polling day has seen kidnappings of electoral staff, murder of candidates and their supporters, and threats from insurgents to other participants, all of which threaten to overshadow the polls themselves.
"No candidate can travel to the remote areas and districts in this province because of insecurity", says Motiullah Dehati, a candidate from the volatile Kunduz province."We cannot campaign easily and go wherever we want. No candidate dares to travel to villages and remote areas because they are out of the control of the Afghan government. Not only in villages and districts, we cannot even hold our public gathering inside Kunduz city, and after 4 p.m. no candidate dares to come out."
Candidates from Ghazni like Mohammad Arif Rahmani have similar fears. Rahmani talks about the restrictions and points to the closure of a large number of polling stations in the province as an indicator of the insecurity. There are plans to open 272 polling centres in Ghazni this year as opposed to the 372 planned in the 2009 presidential elections. "Unfortunately the Ministry of Interior does not have enough capacity or police to ensure the security for each candidate", says Zamaray Bashary, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior.
The insecurity also poses the risk of widespread fraud. In the 2009 elections ballot stuffing and manipulation of results took place mainly in polling stations which were not secured, many of them turning into ghost polling stations. If the parliamentary election has the same level of fraud as the previous one, it would damage the Afghan democratic system, says Danish, of the Keramat weekly magazine.
Fears of fraud are echoed by opposition leader Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the Coalition for Hope and Change. "There are more than hundreds of concerns about this and parliamentary election will take place in an insecure situation", he says.
Who will be our representatives?
In a situation of insecurity and fear of fraud, it is commanders and corrupt and powerful people who stand to gain in the elections, say experts. "If the election is not conducted correctly, powerful men and local commanders will have their way", says Fazlurahman Uria, a political expert. Mr. Uria also points to the problem of money power with some candidates using money to buy votes. In addition, there are widespread suspicions that some countries are financing candidates to work for their interests within the next parliament, he says.
Allegations of the misuse of official positions and the use of money power are also considered prevalent in the Western province of Herat. Zareh Haqjou Afghan, a candidate from Herat, claims misuse of government facilities and the involvement of powerful men is vitiating the electoral atmosphere, something the IEC should take cognizance of. Fazl Ahmad Manavi, the head of the IEC has however requested the Afghan media as well as candidates to refer their complaints along with evidence of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).
Many experts believe the next Parliament will be dominated by powerful men, wealthy men and leaders of the jihad. "The Afghan government has not prepared sufficiently for the parliamentary election and as IEC is a part of Afghan government and there is corruption in the Afghan government, IEC may work in favor of mafia groups and powerful and wealthy men", says Jawid, a law expert and Head of Afghan Social Research Center.
Mr. Uria concurs. "There will be a lower house which includes powerful and wealthy men and mafia groups who will not represent their constituents properly and not heal the people's injuries and pains."
Ultimately it is only public participation in the election process that can bring positive results and how widely Afghans can and are able to participate will be known only on September 18.
Parliament seats: 249
Seats for women: 68
Original number of candidates: 2559
Disqualified candidates: 78
Women candidates: 406
Kochi candidates: 52
Original number of polling centres : 6835
Closed polling centres: 925
Polling stations: 19942
Insecure provinces: 22 provinces
Voter cards: More than 17
Estimated voters: 12 million plus
Observers: International observers, party's representatives and candidates.