14 July 2013 – With less than nine months before Afghanistan is slated to hold a poll to select its new president, the country’s election commission is working in full swing to lay the groundwork for the election, which United Nations officials have said will be critical for the country’s stability.
As part of that preparation, officials from Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) have been busy over the past weeks conducting tests to recruit district field coordinators (DFCs) and civic educators – key tools in efforts to engage Afghans in the voting process.
The DFCs and civic educators receive five-day and three-day trainings, respectively, and are in the process of being deployed to local districts to commence their work, said an IEC training and public outreach officer in the eastern province of Kunar, Sadatullah Mirza.
“The 42 personnel [DFCs and civic educators, in Kunar] will run public awareness and voter education campaigns, and establish polling centres in all 15 districts of the province,” he added.
Afghanistan is undergoing a critical period in its history. The country is scheduled to hold a presidential election on 5 April next year, marking an end to the second term of the incumbent, President Hamid Karzai. In 2015, Afghanistan is due to hold elections for the National Assembly (‘Wolesi Jirga’). The political transition coincides with security and economic transitions.
On the security front, Afghan security forces have assumed security responsibilities from their international allies, who are scheduled end their combat mission at the end of 2014.
On the economic and development front, the international community’s engagement was reaffirmed in early July at a high-level meeting in the Afghan capital of Kabul, between the Government of Afghanistan and international donors. At the gathering, the so-called Senior Officials Meeting, the Afghan Government also reaffirmed its commitments in five main areas related to the economy and development.
Earlier today, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the National Assembly's approval, over the weekend, of a law regulating the structure and responsibilities of Afghanistan's electoral management bodies.
UNAMA’s head, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, has previously said that without certain key election laws in place before the Assembly’s summer recess, the “timely and orderly elections preparations would be compromised.”
“This is a key step toward establishing a robust electoral architecture for the 2014 polls, as committed to by the Afghan Government in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF),” the UN Mission said in a press statement today, referring to the Assembly’s approval and the outcome of a conference in the Japanese capital last year.
The Tokyo gathering brought together representatives of 70 countries and international organizations to chart out future assistance for Afghanistan to meet its economic and development needs through the ongoing transitions and during the so-called Transformation Decade of 2015-2024.
The conference – which led to agreement on “a new reinvigorated development partnership” between the Government of Afghanistan and the international community in the form of the TMAF – was held amidst fears within Afghanistan that international support to the country may wane after the majority of foreign combat troops leave the country in 2014. Donors ended up pledging $16 billion through 2015 for the country’s economic and development needs, while Afghanistan made commitments in the areas of: representational democracy and equitable elections; governance, human rights and rule of law; integrity of public finance and commercial banking; government revenue, budget execution and sub-national governance; inclusive and sustained growth and development.
In its press statement, UNAMA also urged the rapid presidential endorsement and enactment of the law, as well as the “speedy” implementation of the law, specifically the appointment of the IEC’s senior officials.
“UNAMA further looks forward,” the Mission continued, “to the National Assembly continuing its efforts to finalize the Electoral Law, which defines the legal framework of Afghanistan's electoral processes and ensures the full legal participation of all Afghans. UNAMA strongly urges that this is done before the legislature takes its recess.”
According to the IEC spokesperson, Noor Mohammad Noor, elections preparations are going ahead smoothly. He said about 110,000 new voters have been registered at provincial levels since the first phase of the voter registration started on 26 May. Of them, 25,000 are women. Voter registration officials are scheduled to fan out across villages to register more voters on 27 July.
“Our preparation is good for the election and, so far, we have been on time in accordance with our plan. Everything is currently under control of the Independent Election Commission,” said Mr. Noor.
However, he flagged some technical challenges, including the transportation of electoral items to provinces and districts. Another challenge, he added, is ensuring public awareness about the elections.
The IEC hopes that the number of potential voters registering with the election body will “drastically increase” when the civic educators commence their awareness campaigns, especially in rural areas.
Raising Afghans’ awareness will be a top priority for newly-recruited civic educators such as Shah Mahmud from the Kirara area of Asadabad, the capital city of Kunar province.
“We will organize meetings and gatherings in different areas to encourage all qualified citizens to participate in the election and to vote for a capable candidate to lead our war-torn country and to serve our vulnerable people,” said Mr. Mahmud.
In neighbouring Laghman province, IEC has recruited six DFCs and 14 civic educators, including four women. According to the head of IEC for the province, Dr. Akhtar Ajmal, about 25 per cent of the potential voters registering are women.
However, IEC officials in Nuristan province said they did not find any women to recruit among eight DFCs and 14 civic educators. But some women staff of IEC are registering women voters, whose turnout is less largely due to difficult and inaccessible terrain.
The IEC officials in Laghman are planning to organize gatherings in different districts, where civic educators “will explain the significance of election, and voters will be advised to vote for the eligible and capable candidates,” said the IEC’s public outreach officer in the province, Dr. Abdullah Fazli.
In Kunar, 1,500 new voters, including 400 women, have been registered, according to the IEC. They include those who have recently returned to the country or those who lost their voter cards or have recently turned 18 years of age.
Haji Jalal, a resident of Asadabad who lost his old voter card, is one of those coming to re-register.
“It is very important for our future,” he said. “That is why I came here to get a new card to vote. I hope all our eligible countrymen will take part in the upcoming election.”