National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel)


Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission

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Under Article 156 of Afghanistan’s Constitution, elections of all types are the responsibility of the Independent Election Commission (IEC). The IEC faces significant challenges, particularly for the 2010 parliament elections, because it still lacks adequate resources to undertake the task of holding elections without continued international support. Conducting credible and acceptable elections not only depends on the integrity of the election process but also the willingness and ability of the government to continue to build the Commission’s capabilities so that democratic principles and the electoral processes are sustained. Presidential Decree No. 23 of 24 January 2005 provides for an IEC that discharges its roles without influence from governmental or non-governmental sources.

While the independent electoral management body model is one that has been successfully applied in other transitional democracies, the structure described above suffers from a number of defects. First, it lacks in specificity, especially as regards the non-executive responsibilities of the IEC. For example, there is no mention of the IEC’s role in providing advice to the government on electoral matters and preparing electoral law reform proposals. The legal framework also does not address the role of the IEC Secretariat as the executive body responsible for the conduct of elections, an oversight that could lead to confusion within the IEC regarding the role of individual Commissioners in operational matters. A second defect in the legal status of the IEC is a lack of protection for the IEC’s independence. The legal framework does not explicitly prevent the President from replacing IEC members before the end of their terms, or insulate the IEC’s financial resources from political interference. Finally, Presidential Decree No. 23 calls for the appointment of IEC members unilaterally by the President, which is out of keeping with the checks and balances approach that characterizes the appointment of other key public offices. In an environment characterized by political polarization and mutual mistrust, the unilateral appointment of IEC commissioners by the President could undermine the credibility of the IEC as an unbiased administrator of elections. (Source: ANFREL)

Additional notes:

Like in many electoral bodies throughout the world, the IEC has been plagued by accusations, especially by candidates, of non-neutrality. At the local level, the IEC is routinely pegged as either pro-Karzai or pro-Governor, and its local officials accused of having blood relations with certain candidates, allegedly giving said candidates unfair advantage. In other words, the IEC is usually dismissed as a corrupt institution.

However, not all is lost. Last year, while observing the presidential election in Badakhshan province in northeastern Afghanistan, we caught up with Sami Ulha during a training for IEC female staff. Mr. Ulha was IEC’s director in Argo district, a couple of hours drive from provincial capital Faizabad. Unlike many IEC officers we’ve met who are usually professional middle-class types by Afghanistan standards, Mr. Ulha is a farmer when it’s not election season. With Afghanistan’s terrain and constant drought, it’s a safe bet that Mr. Ulha does not earn much as a farmer. Perhaps he joined the IEC for the additional income, albeit temporarily. Mr. Ulha told us though that the IEC had been slow with the financial support. At that time, he had not received money from the IEC for cellphone expenses for his staff, so he was paying for it out of his meager savings. A staff member we talked to sounded worried that the allowance she would get from the IEC might not even be enough for her transportation cost as she lived far from her place of assignment. And forget insurance. (A few days after our interview, the convoy bringing election materials to Argo from Faizabad was struck by a roadside bomb, killing two IEC-Argo staff). Also, since the IEC had no office in Argo, Mr. Ulha had to sleep in a vehicle with all his training materials for the duration of his trainings.

Despite their stories, what struck us was the sincerity to serve. It was a reminder that despite bad reputations of certain institutions, there are people who really try to make the system work through their small contributions and self-sacrifice. At least it reminded me of the public school teachers in the Philippines who would go out of their way every election to simply do a good job and work their way around limitations, sometimes paying for it with their own lives. It seems our countries have a lot in common.

(Report filed by Paolo Maligaya, Mazar-e Sharif, northern Afghanistan)

Written by namfrel

September 16, 2010 at 11:20 am

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