Adili, Ali Yawar (Author), published by AAN – Afghanistan Analysts Network
It has emerged that, without any announcement or formal decision taken, district council elections and Wolesi Jirga elections in Ghazni will not be taking place as planned on 20 October. A special committee of senior government officials had been tasked in early August to rule on an IEC proposal to delay both elections. It has not done so. Meanwhile, the IEC has simply excluded both elections from its preparations. As AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili reports, the disregard for legal procedures obscures the ‘electoral landscape’, fostering an environment where anything, it seems, can be dropped or added at anytime.
2018 was to be the first time Afghanistan had district council elections, despite their being stipulated by the constitution. Voters were ‘informed’ that they were not happening in a casual comment made by Wasima Badghisi, the deputy chair of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) for operations in a media interview. She told Kabul-based daily Hasht-e Sobh on 23 September that the district council elections had not been on the IEC agenda for “a long time”. Although the committee tasked with deciding on the delay had not yet announced “its [final] opinion [decision],” Badghis revealed that district council elections had long “been excluded from election planning and this means they are delayed.”
That district elections had been quietly dropped from preparations for the 20 October poll – district and parliamentary elections were due to be held together on the same day – was confirmed to AAN by IEC spokesman Hafizullah Hashemi on 25 September. He also confirmed that Ghazni’s residents would not have a chance to vote for new MPs this year. Again, this was made without a formal decision or any announcement.
According toarticle 104 of the electoral law, if “security situations, natural disasters, and other similar conditions make impossible the principle of general and fair representation,” elections can be postponed for a period of four months; the IEC needs to propose the delay and a specially designated committee needs to approve it. The committee is comprised of the head and members of the National Security Council, the speakers of the two houses of parliament, the chief justice and the chairperson of the Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution. If the situation on the ground does not improve within the four month period, the committee can postpone the election for a further four months. (1)
The IEC formally submitted a proposal to delay district council elections to the committee on 29 July (see also this UN Secretary General report here). The IEC said that in only 40 out of Afghanistan’s 387 districts had enough male and female candidates put themselves forward to hold a credible election. In the other 347 districts, there were not enough male or female candidates (see AAN’s reporting for detail here. (2)
Elections in Ghazni
Ghazni had experienced a very particular set of problems in trying to prepare for parliamentary elections. Difficulties started on 26 April, just 13 days into the first phase of voter registration (in provincial capitals), when protestors (mainly Pashtuns, but also Tajiks and Sayyeds from various parts of the province) shut down the IEC provincial office in Ghazni city by pitching a tent at its gate and starting a sit-in. They demanded that the province be divided into smaller electoral constituencies in order to ensure balanced ethnic representation. Their demand originated from the disputed 2010 parliamentary election when all 11 Ghazni seats were won by Hazaras, leaving other ethnic groups, especially the Pashtuns without representation. (See AAN’s previous, detailed analysis of the elections issue in Ghazni here)
On 25 June, the IEC decided to “exceptionally” split the province into three separate electoral constituencies for the upcoming parliamentary elections. This was after the IEC had, on 20 May, decided to continue using the country’s 34 provinces as unitary, multi-seat constituencies for the parliamentary poll, despite toying with the idea of having smaller constituencies. The IEC’s 25 June decision, therefore, represented a volte-face, made despite IEC fears that it could create a precedent in any other province which ‘went wrong’ in terms of the results not being ethnically representative of the population.
On 27 June – after 63 days – the protestors removed their tents and allowed the IEC office to reopen. However, they insisted that they were not happy with the proposed division of the province and, instead, wanted it to be split differently. (See AAN’s previous report on how the IEC wanted to split the province here).
The election difficulties in Ghazni were further compounded two days after the IEC office reopened when a number of Hazara residents waged a counter-protest and sit-in near to the IEC office. They called the IEC’s decision to split the province “totally illegal” and demanded that the commission revoke it. They made their next move on 1 July when they shut down the IEC office in Ghazni city
Both of these protests and counter-protests, which involved lengthy closures of the IEC office in Ghazni city, hampered electoral operations. This forced the IEC to propose in late July that elections in the province be postponed. It argued that due to “serious security situation and other problems” in the province, fair and inclusive representation from the entire province could not be ensured (see media report here). Ghazni province is suffering from insecurity, but no more than many other provinces. Rather, as well as the hampering of preparations, no political solution had been found to the competing demands of the rival protestors.
Not taking a decision
On 7 August, as the president’s office reported, the National Security Council, with, the IEC spokesman told AAN, the IEC chairman attending, had held a comprehensive and detailed discussion on 7 August on how to hold district council elections and elections in Ghazni in view of the IEC proposal to delay both. The meeting concluded that “more technical and practical studies and consultations were required in this regard.” It asked the IEC to present specific and practical alternatives to a decision could be taken (see media reporting here). Nothing more was heard on the matter until this week.
On 25 September, IEC spokesman Hafizullah Hashemi confirmed to AAN that both the district council elections and parliamentary elections in Ghazni had been written off from the IEC’s election planning. He did not specify at what stage of the preparations the IEC gave up the effort to hold these elections, but said it had not considered them in various steps in preparations, including sending out ballot papers for printing. The IEC sent more than nine million ballot papers for printing to Dubai in late August.
When AAN called deputy presidential spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazawi on 25 September, he first asked us to call back so he could ask others about the postponed elections. When AAN called him again, he told us to contact the IEC and special committee members to find out why the committee had not taken any decision. AAN informed him that the committee also included the president.
Conclusion: disregarding legal procedures
Both the district council elections and parliamentary elections in Ghazni have, in practice, long been written off for this year. However, procedurally, any delay is actually still pending a final decision by the committee authorised by electoral law. The fact that this committee has not taken any decision on the IEC’s proposals in two months shows that the government leadership apparently does not want to make this decision or at least make it public. Rather, they appear to shift the blame to the IEC. Neither government leaders or the IEC have heeded the legal procedures which exist to resolve such a situation at all.
This failure to observe the legal procedures obscures the rules of the game for all stakeholders because it shows that anything can be dropped or added at anytime without the least attention to the rules spelled out in the law. This undermines the credibility of the election management bodies and the electoral process.
The delay undermines the principle that countrywide elections should be held on one day. Very likely, they will also further clog the electoral calendar. Although there is, as yet, no clarity on when the two postponed sets of elections might be held, in practice, the only option is together with the presidential and provincial elections, planned for 20 April 2019. (It can be surely assumed that a third election within six months – ie four months after 20 October, ie 20 January 2019 – is completely unimaginable, particularly during the winter when many areas are inaccessible.) If three countrywide elections plus an additional one in Ghazni are to be held on one day, this will further complicate preparations and procedures on election day. International donors, in particular, have repeatedly argued that Afghan voters, many of them illiterate, are likely be overburdened by multiple ballot papers.
It is important to highlight that the reasons that led to dropping the district council elections and elections in Ghazni remain unresolved. No efforts have yet been made to find a solution.
(1) Article 104 of the electoral law sets out following provisions and procedures about postponement and suspension of elections:
(2) One positive outcome of election preparations had been – finally – clarity on the much-disputed issue of the number of districts in the country (see AAN reporting here).