National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel)


Afghan volunteers step up

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Tomorrow, election day, FEFA is deploying thousands of local election observers all over Afghanistan to observe the voting and counting for the Wolesi Jirga election. Prior to election day, FEFA has deployed long-term observers since the start of the election period a couple of months ago.

I am fortunate to be involved in capacity-building training for FEFA’s election observers here in the province of Balkh in northern Afghanistan. To be honest, at first I wasn’t expecting much. In last year’s presidential election, I was in touch with the FEFA observers and coordinators in the northeastern province of Badakhshan where I was deployed, and in spite of them having participated in two previous national elections, I could say that there was still a lot to be desired regarding their performance as observers, and in their ownership of their role as election monitors. But perhaps it was unfair to expect much, as FEFA was organized only six years ago to observe Afghanistan’s first election after the dark years of Taliban rule. I forgot that this was something new to them, and they had just started to assume a role that was still in its infancy in the country.

In our training for this election, I came face to face with a different FEFA. Many of the district coordinators as well as polling center volunteers for this election observed for FEFA last year, so now I felt a certain level of confidence from them in assuming this role again. During the training proper, when we asked them why they were there and why they observe elections, we were struck by their thorough knowledge of their role and its importance. To have free and transparent elections. To record fraud. To know more about election observation in other countries. To become better observers. To find solutions to problems encountered in the past. To ensure that Afghan elections become similar to the elections in more developed countries. These were definitely not the answers of simple farmers or housewives taking a break from their cooking. These were real election observers. It was also great to see both males and females of different age groups — both those who knew of a better Afghanistan before the Taliban, and those who came of age after their fall — in the same room for one common cause.

As a new organization, FEFA still needs a lot of support from other election monitoring organizations in the region. It needs a lot more capacity-building trainings because they operate in a country with more difficult challenges. Administratively, they still have a lot of room for improvement. But like other election monitoring organizations, it seems FEFA already has an important ace in its sleeves: its volunteers. Volunteers. In war-torn Afghanistan where volunteering may be the farthest thing from people’s minds. And they have thousands of them. Meeting them, I realize volunteers are all the same. Regardless of country or culture, all volunteers are similarly smart and fearless, with a sense of purpose and fire in their eyes.

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

Written by namfrel

September 17, 2010 at 11:27 pm

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