While the parliamentary election‘s chapter is still not closed in Afghanistan, discussions about going to presidential election is in full swing. The election commission has declared July 20 2019, as the date for the presidential election. 18 candidates, including the incumbent president, President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani, has registered for the presidential run.
However, the anomalies in the 2018 election calls for making structural as well as organizational changes in both the commissions. While collections of the anomalies from the 2018 elections being still fresh, marching to presidential election without goal oriented and futuristic reforms, will result in disaster in the presidential election.
Delay in the delivery of the sensitive and non-sensitive materials to the polling stations, absence of voters’ list in all the polling stations, the absence of result sheets in the polling centers, failure of the biometric machine to work properly, delay in the results, delay in the opening of polling stations are some of the problems that challenged the integrity of 2018 parliamentary elections. Moreover, lack of knowledge of voting procedures by the temporary staff of the election commission triggered delays and in other cases fraud on the election day.
The stated problems were precipitated by a number of structural and administrative triggers, the ambiguity of the power of CEO in the electoral law and the authority of the commissioners to exercise executive power are the prominent ones. Fusion between a number of factors such as lack of cooperation, and a cold war scenario, between the Independent Election Commission and the Election Complaints’ Commission and the Election Complaints Commission’s unquestionable authority to invalidate votes in a particular constituency slowed the election process and damaged the public trust severely.
The situation ignited a number of elections associated tensions and unwanted chaos in the 2018 parliamentary elections. Huge roar and unrest among the ordinary people were observed when the Election Complaints’ Commission invalidated Kabul province votes which resulted in the election results being delayed.
Article 22nd and Article 19th particularly talks about the power of the CEO and the commissioners respectively. Article 22nd of the law states that the CEO is supposed to discharge his duties in the light of this law and carry out all the procedures that are approved by the commission and is accountable to the commissioners. Article 19th of the Election law states that the commissioners are mandated with the preparation of the voters’ registration list, preparation of the election schedule, arranging list of the polling centers, issuing of credit letters. Article 94 of the Election Law mandates the election commission to invalidate results of a specific constituency should the commission deem transparency, directness, privacy of the election in peril. The article also calls for re-election in seven days.
Arriving at a timely consensus even on important issues was another problem that was frequently observed among the commissioners in the election commission.
The presence of chaos and disturbance in the 2018 parliamentary elections sharpens the edge of the call for introducing the changes. These changes might seem titanic but they are not. Since the parliament is not in session. The changes in law can easily be introduced through a presidential decree.
It is important to restore and shore up public trust on the election commission of Afghanistan. In order to achieve this ideal, the first and the foremost step is evaluation of the existing policy level office bearers in both the commissions. The evaluation should pave the way for a change in the office bearers of the election commission. The evaluation should lead to substituting the existing commissioners with more professional and technically literate individuals. This will give a fresh blood to the commission.
The election law needs to be amended. Particularly, the provisions that dictate the power of the CEO and the commissioners. The ambiguity about the CEO power needs to be subsided as a result of the amendment. The amendment needs to authorize the CEO with the executive power. While being accountable to the commissioners, the CEO must be equipped with the executive power. All the executive power should run from the secretariat. The logic behind empowering the CEO with the executive power is that it is the CEO who leads the executive part, which possess not only institutional memory but also technical expertise, of the election commission and can expedite speed of any undertaking needed for the smooth implementation of the electoral processes. Commissioners, on the other hand, due to their large number, lack institutional memory and knowledge and waste time on reaching to consensus even on pity issues.
In addition, the election complaints commission’s status should change from permanent body to a temporary entity. Afghanistan is not in a position to have and fund complaints’ commission as a permanent body nor there is need for such a commission on permanent basis.
A separate but relevant issue is the unquestionable power of the Election Complaints’ Commission to invalidate votes of a constituency needs to change. The power should be shared with the election commission and take place after evaluating the political and social dynamics of the country in general and of the particular constituency under consideration in particular, which is something not dictated by the existing electoral law.
Number of the commissioners in the Election Commission needs to be reduced to 3 or 5, currently there are 7. This will help the IEC commissioners reach the consensus faster, improve accountability in the commission and prevent the divisions among the commissioners on small and not so important issues.
Moreover, the temporary staff of the election day needs to be directly hired by the election commission after making sure that the staff is thoroughly trained and are loyal to the election commission and not to political parties or individuals. The temporary staff, school teachers, were hired to increase integrity of the election. However, the exercise badly failed on the election day when most of the teachers failed to show up on the election day and majority of them were not in a position to operate the biometric devises.
Inclusivity is another area that needs greater attention. A large number of Afghans still do not have IDs Tazkira’s or stickers on their tazkira’s. The election commission needs to co-ordinate with the relevant government entities to ensure that eligible voters get new IDs and the stickers posted on their Tazkira’s.
Additionally, the voters’ registration list needs to be renewed to have names of all the eligible voters’ on the voters’ list with the names spelt correctly.
The election commissions should be given enough time to make necessary technical and logistical preparations for conducting the election. Lack of appropriate arrangements needed for the implementation of electoral processes by both the commissions will create problems in the presidential election.
More importantly, the election commission needs to evaluate locations of the existing polling stations and make necessary adjustments to it to ensure representation from all the Afghans, particularly from women.
Last but not least, a viable roadmap needs to be chalked out for enhancing coordination with the security apparatus of the Afghan government securing all the polling stations before, during and after the election day. A number of polling stations remained closed on the election day in the parliamentary election on the pre-text of security in the 2018 parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.
The important point to note is that the structural as well as organizational reforms should go hand in hand, one without the other will not yield much.
The existing deep-seated problems, if persist, in the election commissions will daunt the electoral system in Afghanistan until they are solved.
*Ahmadullah Archiwal is a Kabul based researcher and can be reached at [email protected]