October 18, 2018


Why Are Afghanistan's Elections Crucial?: How this week's parliamentary elections will reshape Afghanistan's political future. (Noah Coburn, October 16, 2018, The Diplomat)

One of the successes of the past 17 years has been to entrench the idea of elections as the key to political transitions in Afghanistan. This fragile step toward democratization and the idea that the government can be held accountable to the people could be undermined by a failed or deeply contested voting process. The progress in recent weeks of talks between the Taliban and U.S. representatives will be deeply compromised if a legitimate Afghan government is not seen as a part of the negotiation process.

Despite this, there are far fewer international monitors providing oversight and international troops providing security than in recent rounds of voting in 2009, 2010, and 2014 and there are signs that these elections could be even more destabilizing than earlier waves. To stem the violence, the Afghan government has announced that 54,000 security forces will be deployed to protect the polls. Even with these forces, already 2,000 polling stations have been deemed too risky to open, and at least seven parliamentary candidates have been killed.

To combat fraud, biometric devices are being sent to polling stations around the country, but Afghan politicians have raised concerns about their reliability, and there's a possibility that these devices could undermine the legitimacy of the elections if they are seen as being manipulated and corrupted. In previous elections, rumors about the fallibility of the ink used to mark the fingers of voters led to an increase in conspiracies about fraud.

Even before the voting there is evidence to suggest the process has been corrupted. For example, the number of voters registered in some provinces is higher than the actual number of people believed to be living there.

Public confidence in the government and the Independent Election Commission is already low. District elections, mandated in the constitution but never held, were dropped by the Commission over the summer, as were elections in the contested province of Ghazni. This suggests to many Afghans that the commission may not be equipped to manage either the logistics or the political pressure that will come with this vote.

Other indicators are more positive and there has been a large amount of interest and mobilization around a series of younger parliamentary candidates. Many of these candidates, who have been educated and come of age in the years since the U.S. invasion in 2001, represent a genuine alternative from the generation of Afghan leaders who earned their reputations during the war against the Soviets and the ensuing civil war that tore the country apart.

The issue is that even if young incumbents are elected to replace this older generation, there is little to suggest that the outgoing members of parliament will go quietly. In the 2014 election, supporters of both current President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah dismissed the vote as corrupted. When the threats of violence became more serious, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stepped in to negotiate a truce between the two sides. With 250 seats up for grabs, negotiating between various interest groups, commanders and political parties will be far more challenging.

Posted by at October 18, 2018 4:01 AM