Afghanistan has a date for its next presidential elections: 5 April 2014. But today’s announcement by the Independent Election Commission of a timeline leading up to this date leaves questions open about its implementation. First, there are contradictory statements about whether the old, controversial voter cards will be used again. Second, the IEC aims at simultaneous presidential and provincial council (PC) elections although the PCs’ term already ends in 2013. And a decision to stagger the count of both sets of votes might create new conflict. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig comments.
After having been leaked a day in advance by an anonymous ‘Afghan election officer’, the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) has officially announced 16 Hamal 1393 (5 April 2014) as the date for presidential and provincial council elections today. This is a good first step into Afghanistan’s third electoral cycle, the first time since 2001 that the constitutional time limit on a presidency will have been respected (the dates of the previous two presidential elections were postponed). The political opposition and significant parts of civil society had raised fears that the incumbent’s second and final round in office might be extended, opening the way for perpetuating his term in office in an unconstitutional way. This announcement, therefore, is a step in the right direction.
But it is only one step on the long, hard way to acceptable elections as a key part of the political transition. In fact, the announcement of the date and the implementation of the election timeline up to E-Day(1) are just the easier half of the journey. Previous elections have demonstrated, as Martine van Bijlert has shown in her 2011 AAN paper about the 2010 elections that up to E-Day, things went well, but then spiralled out of control afterwards, leading to a situation where the legitimacy of the results seriously came under question and all sides felt cheated.
In so far, the blurredness of today’s IEC announcements in two crucial respects must raise concerns. On the first one, voter registration, there were contradictory statements.
On one hand, IEC chairman Fazl Ahmad Manawi said at the press conference that ‘we cannot wait for the e-tazkera’, referring to the new electronic ID card that is supposed to be distributed from late 2012 onwards, but will only reach a part of the population by E-Day(2), according to government sources: ‘We wish using them was possible in the coming elections’ but it is ‘too time-consuming a process’. This seems to indicate that the commission has reconciled with the idea to use the old voter cards only, even though their number has been heavily inflated – far beyond the number of actual voters. Originally, the IEC had preferred another option, to establish a completely new voter registry.
The IEC press release distributed, however, seems to indicate that the discussion is not over yet:
… according to the Presidential Decree no: 45, dated 26 July, 2012, the IEC was requested to prepare a concept document for Voter Registration concerning the upcoming elections […]. The IEC is pleased to announce that over the past several weeks it has worked extensively on developing these documents and will submit them to the President’s Office today, Wednesday, 31 October, 2012. Subsequently, the IEC will pursue widespread consultations with relevant stakeholders…
The only further explanation given at the press conference was that the IEC will ‘validate’ the old voter cards. But what does this exactly mean? Will the cards simply remain ‘valid’ and be used again, or does the IEC have an idea up their sleeves how to weed out the duplicates and fakes?
So, does Manawi’s remark about the e-tazkera represent his personal opinion or has a decision, in favour of the old voter cards, already taken? Are the announced consultations just a placebo for the opposition? If the IEC has performed a 180-degree turn and ended up with the same position as the President, the political parties and significant parts of civil society will definitely cry foul and the electoral process will be in the crisis from the moment it started. Just a few days ago, the parties and civil society organisations, led by FEFA, the independent umbrella group of Afghan elections observer, had insisted the cards not to be used due to ‘bad experiences’ during the previous polls – although it must be clear to them that the time is really too short to distribute the new ID cards to all Afghans in time for the 2014 elections.
The second issue is about holding the presidential poll simultaneously, as in 2009, with the provincial council elections. Has no one registered that the legislative period for the president is five years while the provincial councils are elected for four years only, with their term ending in 2013 already? No explanation has been given for this. If simultaneous elections are held, this would, again, amount to a violation of the constitution – even if it is done for the practical reason that, in a security situation that will not substantially have improved by 2014, it will be even more difficult to hold two separate elections
and ask the voters people to go to the polling station twice what, in many areas, will be a significant risk as long as the armed insurgents are not brought on board. But then, parliamentary elections are due to be held in summer 2015 while hopes to have the also constitutionally required (but never held) district council and mayoral elections are also alive.
This is another point for those who warned that Afghanistan gave itself far too complicated an electoral calendar in its 2004 constitution. According to Democracy International’s 2010‘Consensus Recommendation for Electoral Reform’:
… under the current design, Afghanistan will need to hold elections nearly every year for the foreseeable future. This puts unnecessary strain on stakeholders to the election process and prevents proper legislative bodies from undertaking necessary changes to the election system. Some observers have proposed the adoption of a two-tiered election cycle with presidential and parliamentary elections in one tier and provincial council and municipal elections in another, staggered by two years.
On election security, Afghan authorities seem to have swallowed the ISAF troop contributing countries’ message that their troops – to be withdrawn by late 2014 – will not have a role again in protecting the ‘7,000 polling stations’ (Manawi). Whether that also includes the vital air assets that transported election material, including ballot boxes, into outlying areas during the previous elections is still not clear. One can assume, however, that the Afghan air force will never be able to cover the same range.
Last but not least, the IEC also came up with what might look to its members like an innovative idea, but to me just appears to be amateurish: staggering the counting of the votes for the presidential (to be held from 6-20 April 2014) and the provincial council elections (21 April-12 May). This requires that the PC votes are safely stored somewhere, but this will definitely raise suspicions that the ballot boxes may be fiddled with.
Finally: just going through the first headlines coming up on the internet about the 2014 election date announcement, I am really flabbergasted. ‘Taliban to contest Afghan poll’, the Gulf News write, and Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung says: ‘Taleban admitted for presidential poll‘. Wait a moment: the IEC just said that the armed insurgents are invited to join the elections ‘as candidates and voters’. This is not new, though; such appeals have been sent out before previous elections, as well. But it always takes two to tango and the Taleban have never decided to dance before.
(1) The document has been distributed via email but cannot be found yet on the IEC website. (The website shows a press release from July as its latest one, both on the Dari/Pashto as on its English version.)
(2) There are different estimates about this, even from government sources. At the IEC press conference, Abdul Rahman Rahman, the Deputy Minister of Interior for Security Affairs, said that the distribution of the e-tazkera will begin in Jaddi this year (i.e. December 2012/January 2013) but that only six million people will have received it by E-Day. According to the Ministry of Communications, five to eight million voter will have e-tazkera by then. Rahman also mentioned a role for the Afghan Local Police in election security.
Find the electoral timeline, as published by the IEC, here.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020