The Parliamentary and District Council elections are to be held six months later on 7 July 2018 while the distrust over the capacity of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) is increasing in national and international levels.
Recently The Diplomat wrote in an article, holding the upcoming elections without the reforms in the electoral system and IEC will increase political instability in Afghanistan. Before this, the special representative of the UN Secretary General for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto in the Security Council of the UN has said that the preparations and the efforts of the IEC to hold timely and transparent elections were not sufficient.
Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) and Wolesi Jirga have also criticized the performance of IEC. Based on the remarks of Members of Parliament (MPs), the capacity of the IEC is not acceptable for them and that is way they do not believe the upcoming elections would be transparent. TEFA has accused the government of intervening in the affairs of IEC and has expressed concern about lack of preparation to hold the elections next year.
What are the factors that have increased doubts on IEC and holding the next elections? Will the coming election be held on its specified date?
The second paragraph of Article 83 of the Afghan constitution states: “The work period of Wolesi Jirga shall terminate, after the announcement of the results of the elections, on 1st Saratan [solar month] of the fifth year and the new parliament shall commence its work.” Based on this provision of the constitution, the work period of the current Wolesi Jirga should have ended at the end of Jawza 1394 [solar month and year] and the new Wolesi Jirga should have started its work. Nevertheless, this parliament’s term was extended until the announcement of the results of the next parliamentary elections by issuing a Presidential Decree on 29 Jawza 1394 [19 June 2015].
Despite that, on 18 January 2016, the head of IEC announced that the parliamentary elections would be held on 15 October 2016. This announcement was opposed by some parties in the country. The Afghan Chief Executive was insisting that everything must be done by the new Election Commission and after the reforms were brought to the electoral system.
Although the issue of elections was turned into a stigma for Afghanistan in the first two years of the National Unity Government (NUG), the New Election Commission was formed and started its work and now, after one year of its formation, the capabilities of this elections is widely questioned.
Distrust towards IEC
The mistrust towards IEC and holding the upcoming elections is due to the following factors:
First; IEC, which is formed after long-term controversies, does not have the required capacity and capability to hold the upcoming election. Since ever the beginning, this commission failed to develop an implementable plan that guaranteed the transparency of the elections. For instance, this commission failed to undertake the electronic system of elections, which would have guaranteed 90% of the transparency of the elections. Although sometimes back IEC announced that it started the process of electronic electoral system, it announced later that it was impossible to do so at the time. Overall, IEC has not had any tangible achievement until now.
Second; the internal difference of the electoral commissions is also another factor that affects the preparations to hold the upcoming elections. The members of the electoral commissions have profound disagreements among themselves. Instead of preparing for the elections, the head and the commissioners of the Electoral Complaints Commission accused each other of corruption, negligence and law breaking and five members of this commission was dismissed by the President. After that, the head of the IEC was also dismissed by the president after such demand was made on behalf of the members of this commission and the new commissioner is yet to be introduced to this commission.
Third; IEC does not have the required independence either, as the electoral monitoring institutions, the members of Wolesi Jirga, and some politicians of the country have repeatedly questioned the independence of this commission. Therefore, there exist analysis suggesting that the government is not willing to hold a fair and transparent election and for this wants to blame IEC. Election and Transparency Watch Organization of Afghanistan (ETWA) stated on 5 November 2017 that after evaluating the performance of the IEC, this institution has arrived to the conclusion that this commission is still not independent.
The fate of the upcoming elections
Besides the mistrust towards IEC, there are other challenges that also increases the credibility of the assumption that the upcoming Parliamentary and District Council elections will not be held.
The security situation is in the worst condition, ever and the Afghan government’s control over its territory is in its lowest levels. Based on the recent report of SIGAR, the Afghan government has uncontested control over only 57 percent of its territory as of last November. That is down from 72 percent a year earlier. In SIGAR’s report to the US Congress two months ago, the office of John Sapko had sated that only in the past six months the Afghan government has lost the control of its 9 districts and, hence, the armed oppositions of the government “controlled” and had “influence” over 54 districts of the country. The population under the control of the government is 34% and the population under the influence of the government was 29% of the overall Afghan population. That is why IEC is not able to even specify the electoral centers in more than 30 districts of the country.
On the other hand, the internal divisions of the NUG have also caused the fate of the upcoming elections to be undecided. For instance, the issuing of the electronic identity cards is deemed as a major step towards holding transparent and fair elections in the country, while, the beginning of its issuing has faced challenges due to the disagreements between the two leaders of the NUG. It seems that the reason behind the delay in introducing the new commissioner of the Election Commission is also the differences between the NUG leaders.
Therefore, it seems the NUG is not seriously willing to hold the upcoming elections due to the challenges that it is currently facing and this elections will be postponed, something that will further question the legitimacy of the regime.
The concerns about the instability of the country
Although it seems impossible to hold the 2018 elections, the concerns that are related to the elections and its probable outcomes are that of the political and security instability of the country.
Some monitoring institutions, politicians, and political parties do not seem to be satisfied with the electoral reforms of the NUG and some others even insist on the dissolution of the commission in order for the transparent elections to be held. The Diplomats, a publication based in US, released an article written by Abdullah Elham, and Afghan writer that the weaknesses of the electoral system has increased the concerns and have resulted in political differences.
The fundamental reforms in the electoral system and commissions is one of the musts in order to prevent instability after the elections. The electoral reforms that the NUG has brought did not result in to the improvement of the performance of the electoral commissions. Even in the beginning, due to the internal conflicts in the government, the Selection Committee was formed in a way that did not have the required capability to select the electoral commissioners. The members of the commission are not selected transparently and no reform is evident in these commissions; therefore, we should not expect the government to hold an election acceptable for all.
Hence, in order to prevent the probable after elections instability in the country, the first step is the firm willingness of the government to reform the electoral system and the elections commissions. And after that, the support of the international community is also much important in this regard, while the international community have kept its meaningful silence in this regard and has done nothing to change the situation.