An election is a democratic process through which people have the opportunity to vote freely for the candidate of their choice. In exercising this right, people are not only casting their vote for a particular person but also for a hope that the vote will usher change for a better future.
For elections to be effective, active citizen participation and transparency in the electoral process are crucial factors. Active citizen participation comes about when people are aware of the importance of elections and no security threats hinder their participation.
One of the challenges faced in Afghanistan is the fact that there are still villages where people remain unaware of the purpose of elections or about their inherent right to vote. Instilling the need to take part in this democratic process as well as inculcating the awareness that the votes cast by women count as much as those by men are just two of the election-related concerns that Afghanistan is facing.
And as always, in the recent as well as in the previous elections, the security issue looms large. People fear that should they come out to vote, they could be maimed or killed by the Taliban or other insurgents. Yet it was heartening to see that in this year’s presidential elections, Afghans turned out in record numbers to cast their vote despite the ruthless acts of intimidation done mainly by the Taliban to derail this democratic process. The occurrence of many violent incidents did not deter the Afghans from voting. Instead, the violence may have provided the impetus for the Afghans to rise courageously against the brutality of the Taliban and other insurgents and to uphold democracy.
The other crucial factor in an election is transparency. Without it, the entire election exercise is deemed rigged, manipulated to serve a political master, giving rise to accusations of fraud and corruption. That sense of transparency is considered to be ensured with the presence of independent election monitors. In Afghanistan, one such country-based group is FEFA (Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan). An independent, non-partisan organization, FEFA seeks to “ensure that all the democratic processes are implemented transparently through networking, citizen participation and good governance.”
During the April presidential elections and the subsequent run-off in June, FEFA sent observers throughout the country. They reported on irregularities observed such as shortage of ballot papers or late opening of polling stations. These reports were in turn conveyed to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) for them to rectify the problem as well as to prevent their occurrence in other locations.
The Election Standoff
When the presidential election results were tallied none of the eight candidates secured the minimum 50 percent plus one of the votes needed to be declared the winner. But among them, Abdullah Abdullah was the front runner. He had a slim majority over Ashraf Ghani, the closest rival. However, in the election run-off that took place in June, Ashraf Ghani secured more votes. Abdullah disputed the results and threatened to set up his own parallel government should there be no recount of the ballots cast. To avert an electoral crisis, US Secretary of State John Kerry brokered an agreement between the two rival candidates with the understanding that both will abide with the election results once the ballot recount is done.
The Future and its Challenge
Generally, the citizens of Afghanistan will accept the results given out by the IEC. Many Afghans around Kabul– especially the youth and among supporters of Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani– are of the view that having peace in Afghanistan is more important than having their favored candidate declared the president.
Challenges still lie ahead for Afghanistan to overcome if democracy is to be a lived reality. The best way to strengthen the commitment to democracy across Afghanistan is through education. It is vital that everyone regardless of ethnicity, social class or gender identity come to know the value and importance of democracy.