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Afghanistan: Wolesi Jirga 2018 Elections- High Turnout showed People’s faith in Democracy:

Paper No. 6450                   Dated 23-Oct-2018

R M Panda

Defying Taliban threats, Taliban induced violence, technical glitches and allegations of inducements to the voters, the people in Afghanistan voted in large numbers to the Wolesi Jirga 2018 (Lower House).  According to chief of the IEC (Independent Election Commission) Abdulbadi Sayyad, out of a total number of 8918107 voters “four million  turned out for the election that included 67%  men and 33%  women. Voting was held in all but two of the Provinces Ghazni and Kandhahar where the security situation did not permit any election.

Voting for Wolesi Jirga officially began on 20.10.2018 morning 7 am across the country and was extended for one more day as thousands could not vote amid delays and technical interruptions. On the first day,  voting continued till 6 pm crossing the normal time of 4pm in those polling stations where the voting was started late due to administrative difficulties. According to IEC chief Mr. Sayyad, 4530 polling stations out of 4901 were opened and only 371 sites remained closed due to technical reasons on 20.10.2018. These polling booths were protected by 54,000 Security personnel that included the Police and the Armed Forces.

Out of 249 Wolesi Jirga seats 10 seats are reserved for Kuchis (Nomads) and one joint seat for the  Hindu and Sikh communities.

According to IEC there were 417 women candidates out of the total number of 2565.  Another surprise was that a large number of candidates – nearly 92 percent declared themselves as independent candidates though they were indeed supported by different factions in Afghanistan.

According to an Afghan Analyst Network count, Jonbesh-e Melli-ye Islami party that belongs to Abdul Rashid Dostum had the most with 44 including eight women, followed  next Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami with 42 candidates including two women candidates and Deputy Chief Executive Hazi Muhammad Mohaqqeq’s Party, Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami-ye Mardom with 22 candidates including five women.

The fact that a large number of women voters turned  out was indeed a reminder that people particularly women were not deterred by Taliban threats and violence.

There were  of course a large number of ghost and fake voters in this election and it could be  said that despite the technical difficulties the people in Afghanistan had stood united and proved that they had faith in the electoral system and the democratic process.

Credit goes to the young candidates as they played a major role in motivating people to vote. Despite the widespread pessimism, and the delayed elections ( three years)- it has still delivered an important message to the Taliban that the political system is there to stay and that the Taliban has to come to terms with the political process that people have accepted.

There were many technical difficulties.  In some places the Voters had difficulty to locate the names of their favourite candidates as the lists were too long.  For example, in Kabul the size of the ballot paper was like a newspaper with 15 pages and with a list of 800 candidates!

Multiple blasts rocked Kabul polling stations as Afghans gathered to cast their votes. The Interior Ministry report said that there were a total 250 terrorist incidents  that occurred happened during the two days of polling. A total number of 49 people were killed including 27 civilians, 21 police men and one army soldier. 10 candidates were also  killed so far by the Taliban since the voting date had announced.

In the Elections, promises were many whether these were doable or not.  There were some  allegations against some candidates as they had promised money to voters and some even offered rice and oil to the voters.  Some declared  during their election campaign that they would be able to solve the security situation, some offered a luxurious style of living and some offered to turn Afghanistan in a prosperous and a peaceful country.  The IEC is said to have taken notice of such wild promises!

This election campaigns provided thousands of short term jobs for the unemployed. Most of the election candidates had employed ten to twenty people for their campaign and in addition to that jobs were also created in publishing companies.

Following the assassination of the powerful Kandahar Provincial Police Commander Haroon Chakhansori and the Provincial Intelligence Head Abdul Momin Hassankhail, the election date was postponed by  a week in Kandahar province.

The election date in Ghazni province is yet to be decided as there are multiple problems in the Province. There are issues related to security as well as voter registration process in the province. Residents from various ethnic backgrounds raised concerns over unequal representation, and demanded that the constituencies be divided to ensure a balanced electorate.

IEC officials are planning to hold the Parliamentary Elections alongside the Presidential elections scheduled for April 2019.

The Election Commission has not set a timeline for announcing the official results, but the preliminary results are expected to be announced within a month or so.

Afghanistan has shown that despite a serious security situation, elections can be held and that the people have faith in it.

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