Following years of delay and growing skepticism due to technical problems and intensified security situation, Afghanistan is holding parliamentary and district council elections. The ongoing poll marks an important juncture for Afghanistan, pending successful conclusion next week.
The vote for the bicameral parliament, of which only members of the lower house are directly elected, has drawn 2,565 contenders including 417 women candidatescontesting for the 249 seats, according to Afghanistan Independent Election Commission (AIEC).
The parliamentary elections were initially scheduled for October 2016. But the timeline changed, and the vote was postponed to July and then October this year. The recurring delays, among others, had much to do with the debate over reforming Afghanistan’s electoral laws; a key element as part of an agreement reached by the National Unity Government (NUG) calling for an overhaul of electoral system prior to the new parliamentary elections.
Hence, to alleviate the controversies stemming from the malpractices in past elections, which led to low confidence in the electoral process amongst the population, NUG undertook a series of reforms vis-à-vis electoral system, including introducing a new elections law and establishing a voter registration database. Besides, AIEC took measures to assess all voting centers across the country in an attempt to ensure accessibility and minimized fraud in the elections.
Moreover, heeding political parties’ persistent demands, AIEC initiated – in the run up to the elections -a new high-tech biometric system that uses fingerprints and digital photos to eliminate duplicate and false voter registration.
Meanwhile, as the campaign kicked off last Friday, weeks ahead of balloting, Afghanistan interior and defense ministries announced that they had deployed additional troops to provide better security for the candidates and for the voters numbering over eight million, according to the AIEC, who would be casting ballots at 21,011 polling stations across the country.
However,as seen and widely reported, the fervent welcome with which the parliamentary elections is being received by the citizens presents a phenomenon. Defying all odds, Afghans seem to have been inspiredby the watershed occasion symbolizing nation’s nascent democracy to push for strengthening democratic rule through the power of their vote.
Afghanistan is home to one of the world’s youngest and fastest growing populations, where over half of the country’s 35 million population is under the age of 25, according to UNFPA. This, in part, helps explain the phenomenon, as educated youthmakes up a significant proportion of the dynamics of the electorate.
The unfolding development brings to light a crave for change as much as hope for the futureamong Afghans across the nation, especially the younger generation, who accuses country’s current legislative body as rubber stamp and of political and ethnic divisiveness.
While Afghanistan continues to grapple with arduous challenges laying ahead, the resilience and optimism the people of Afghanistan have come to demonstrate in this parliamentary elections are setting critical trends for the all-important presidential elections only months away.
Sharif Ghalib is a former Deputy Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva. He served at the United Nations headquarters for 10 years and was the first Afghan diplomat to negotiate the establishment of full bilateral diplomatic and consular relations between Afghanistan and Canada at resident-embassy level.