Afghan polls: Challenges and Issues

Last Updated: Sep 18, 2010, 18:01 PM IST

Kamna Arora

‘Down with corruption!’ ‘Work for everyone!’

Pinning their hopes on such slogans, Afghans are casting their ballots to elect 249 members to the country`s lower house of Parliament, or the Wolesi Jirga.

Hosting a free and fair election is a cumbersome task for any country. And for Afghanistan, the situation becomes even tougher keeping in mind how last year’s Presidential Elections in the country were marred by widespread fraud.

According to a report issued by a US government watchdog, Afghanistan’s electoral process is plagued by deep-rooted problems that will take a lot of time to address.

Problems such as biased electoral organisations and lack of a reliable list of registered voters do exist, notes the report by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Moreover, election officials recently claimed that thousands of fake voter registration cards have been found across Afghanistan.

The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and independent watchdog, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), said fake cards had been found in Heart, Kunduz, Baghlan, Nuristan, and Paktia.

Security

In the war-torn country`s second Parliamentary Elections in almost 40 years, violence is a key issue. The year 2010 has seen a record number of casualties among foreign as well as Afghan troops. An increase in civilian deaths is also a major concern. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt elections, warning Afghans to boycott the vote.

"This (poll) is a foreign process for the sake of further occupation of Afghanistan and we are asking the Afghan nation to boycott it," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news agency.

"We are against it and will try with the best of our ability to block it. Our first targets will be the foreign forces and next the Afghan ones," he added.

The United Nations and government officials say that four candidates have been killed and dozens of campaign workers wounded in poll-related violence.

A leading rights watchdog said candidates, campaigners and voters had reported "increasing attacks and threats from the Taliban and other insurgent groups”, ahead of polls.

"Women candidates are at particular risk and some have told Amnesty International that local security forces refuse to offer them protection and even ridicule them when they do report threats or violence against them.”

Last month, Afghanistan`s Independent Election Commission (IEC) had announced that over 900 polling centres would remain shut on September 18 due to security fears. However, now the government claims it can provide safety to the voters with the help of more than 150,000 foreign troops present in the country.

"This is an election being held for the first time ever by the Afghans themselves, and there’s no denying that it’s being held in the face of an active insurgency, so security is going to be a challenge," a senior Obama administration official said.

Corruption

It is never difficult to spot Afghans in Kabul who are annoyed by the high level of corruption in the country.

Lorenzo Delesgues of the Integrity Watch Afghanistan says, "It (corruption) reduces the legitimacy of the state. It gives more legitimacy to the Taliban." A survey done by his NGO says that over half of the respondents "think that the Taliban are gaining ground because of the corruption of the Afghan state."

According to an estimate by the United Nations, corruption costs Afghans USD 2.5 billion a year.

Many Afghans also complain that the Parliament is made up mainly of former warlords and powerbrokers, who misuse their powers and position to fulfil their own interests and agenda.

Corruption in Afghanistan is one of the key concerns of the US as well. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai tries to assure the US of the steps he has taken to tackle corruption within his own government, but tangible results have been hard to find.

"It is a government similar to a corporation, where people are after making themselves rich," said Waheed Mozhdah, a veteran Afghan political analyst.

Women

Defying Taliban threats, a record number of female candidates are standing in the parliamentary elections in this conservative country.

"With voting billed for 18 September, Kabul`s streets have been plastered in posters and billboards, many of which show the faces of would-be female MPs in the capital, the number of whom has more than doubled since 2005. However, many of the posters do not stay up long, or get defaced with slashes of bright red ink," reports The Guardian.

Amnesty recently quoted a woman candidate as receiving a "night letter" -- a warning delivered under a gate or nailed to a door during the night by the Taliban.

According to Afghanistan`s Constitution, 68 out of the 249 total seats in Parliament`s lower house must be allocated to women. In the 2005 Parliamentary Election, women won 28 percent of the seats. It will be interesting to see whether women win more seats than the guaranteed quota this time.