June 14th marked another day in the history of Afghanistan, millions of Afghans across the country voted to institutionalize democracy. This has been the first ever exercise of the election runoff in the history of the country. Despite security threats, attempts and attacks by the insurgents and terrorists, public participation in the election presumably indicate their commitment to democracy and their enthusiasm for a first ever peaceful transition of political power from one elected president to another elected president. Every patriot Afghan truly and heartily appreciates the measures taken by the security forces. Along with their security forces, many Afghans sacrificed their lives for a better future. On the Election Day, the role of local media in covering the election process has been extraordinarily valuable, but role of some media and their impartiality, observing and informing the public is highly questioned. However, there was corruption, fraud and irregularities, but the complaints have been registered with the Independent Election Complaint Commission (IECC) and it is expected that the commission should address all the concerns.
Sacrifice for freedom:
Afghan security forces interrupted tens of insurgents and terrorists attempts, but still they were able to carry 150 attacks across the country. At least 73 Afghans and foreign fighters were killed by the ANSF during their responsive and clear out operations. During the Election Day, people experienced two types of security violence: attacks by insurgents and attacks by warlords and armed supporters of the candidates. More than 50 people, including civilians and security forces martyred and around 100 Afghans were wounded during the Election Day. As a punishment, the insurgents cut fingers of 11 innocent voters. Freedom does not come free and they have paid the cost for their and our freedom. Which will be remembered forever.
Controversy about the turnout:
While it is not a final, clean and exact figures, but according to Dr. Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, chairman the IEC around 7 million voters cast their votes. This shows of nearly 58% of the 12 million eligible voters’ turnout. Dr. Nuristani announced that 37% female and 62% male took part in the elections. However, the figures are not final yet, but Dr. Abdullah Abdullah a leading candidate in the first round of the elections opposed the IEC assessment, boycotted observation of the counting process, and asked for an immediate halt of the process. He claims that the turnout in the second round was significantly lower than the first round. Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai seems happy about the turnout and he agreed with the IEC assessment of high turnouts. It is still early to have a concrete answer until all the results from more than 6000 are counted and only the time can clarify the exact number of turnouts.
Big fear of unforeseen changes in the estimated results of the election has extremely worried Abdullah and before any announcement, he has cut off ties with the election commissions and pulled his observers from all the sites. He blamed President Hamid Karzai for mass fraud and demanded a freeze on vote counting. One of the conditions of Abdullah is suspension of IEC’s Secretariat Chief Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, who was blamed for election frauds, but Dr. Yousuf Nuristani rejected all accusation against Mr. Amarkhail and continued the process according to the electoral schedule. Finally, Mr. Amarikhail resigned and one condition of Dr. Abdullah met, but still he has not agreed and he has extended his doubts and conditions. The U.N, U.S. and other westerner allies of Afghanistan also backed the IEC decision and they said that the constitutional institutions and their decision must be respected. However, the latest protest and fear of major crisis, has worried the international community. Because of threats and pressure finally the partial election results announcement is delayed.
Role of local media:
Initial assessment of the IEC, based on the recommendation of Afghan security institutions showed that 6365 polling centers (PCs) to be open, 67 PCs less than the first round of elections. The PCs were reduced based on the security assessment and high level of threat. Yet there are arguments about the exact figures of the open PCs and Dr. Abdullah team claims that the figure presented by the IEC is different from reality. The voting results from local media are also varying. While the contribution of the media is highly appreciated by many Afghans, but during the Election Day, some local media kept the nation in darkness, they have not reported the reality form the ground, and they have covered the elections in a precise propagating style.
Some media outlets, that were reporting all the great news from some polling centers, just after the Election Day the same outlets, reported mass fraud in the same place. This has seriously undermined the impartiality of these media outlets. Public was looking at the media as an independent observer institution of the election process. However, the controversial and inaccurate report by some privet media in Afghanistan has alarmed the nation that like many other institutions, some free media in Afghanistan is also very fraudulent. As a protest and reaction, some Afghans posted messages on their social media and urged people to boycott watching and listening some media outlets. Some Afghan journalists are also widely criticized by public for provoking the nation for instability and war.
Lessons and learned:
Several small and some major technical and logistical shortcomings, which could have been avoided, repeated in the second round of elections as well. Clearly that the IEC could not deliver its promise. Hundreds of voting centers faced a shortage of ballot papers, which were a main concern and an issue in the first round of the elections. The PCs was not enough, however voters lined up, but in some part of the country because of the hot weather and security threat people could not stay in the long lines and some returned without being able to use their votes. The quality of the ink was also an issue and in some PCs, some people were able to vote twice. IEC women staff was significantly low and it was one of the challenges for the women, who are not allowed to vote together with men, but only in a spate area. Therefore, it evidently shows the negligence and ignorance of IEC. If they were not able to overcome the challenges, they should have informed the nation before the election. If they were able to hold a better election and they did not do their job, now they have to be accountable for the nation and they will be responsible for any consequence.
Role of social media and IT:
It has proven in Afghanistan that the digital tools and social media is a significant tool for the election observations. Thousands of observers and representatives have observed the process. This time many observers have been trained and equipped with the smart phones to the collect evidence of fraud and election violations. The supporters and observers of both candidates have collected hundreds of visual evidence. Social media were highly used by the supporter of both candidates prior, during and after the Election Day. It was also a tool for whistle-blowing and disclosure. What if the UN becomes against freedom of expression? Against all principles of freedom of expressions the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján KubišStands warned about the use of social media and this has given government a fake legitimacy to censor and threat social media users.
Stands of the international community:
14th of April is celebrated as a mothers’ day in Afghanistan. During that day, kids bring gifts for their mother, but this time, many mothers casted their vote for the future of their kids and many Afghans called the day a double celebration, it was truly a special day, mixed of celebrations. Using different terms, many leaders congratulated Afghans and welcomed the turnout and exercise of the process. Here are some examples of messages of key leaders about election runoff.
- President Karzai: Another major step towards a prosperous future
- The UN: A major achievement in the country’s historic democratic transition
- White house: A significant step forward on Afghanistan’s democratic path
- NATO: Another historic day for Afghanistan
In addition, the EU election observer congratulated Afghans for their participation in the election runoff. Now, the country is in a crisis, which has worried these actors, so we may witness a shift in their stands, but their initial position was very clear and they congratulated Afghans for another major step.
A message to friends and enemies:
However, the methods, procedures and ways of practicing election can be debated. Nevertheless, holding the second round of the election at this very critical point and the turn of people during the election runoff had strong messages, both for the friends and for enemies of Afghanistan. To their partners and allies, it proves that the investment made in the last one decade is valued and it has not wasted at all. Therefore, by taking part in the process public showed to their enemies that they are ready to assume responsibilities in every walk of life. It once again shows that Afghans are not afraid of threats and force and they are ready for any kind of sacrifice for their freedom. ANSF has also demonstrated success of security transition from NATO led mission, which is in its fifth and last phase.
Frightening political game:
Acceptance of the election results by candidates was one of the major concerns. The candidates were repeatedly reminded about the agendas of the current administration and foreign intelligence, particularly the ISI, who trays to sabotage the process and prolong the current administration. It is a fact that most of the IEC and ECC members have never been independent and they have been appointed in a compromise between the government and opposition political elites. Nevertheless, the latest accusation of the IEC’s Secretariat Chief Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail and release of the evidence against him has to be fully investigated. Both camps may release more evidence of corruption against each other, but Afghans should be wise and do not pre-judge anything before a throughout investigation. Meanwhile, both parties must not forget that there are other parties involved, who try to inflame the crisis and disputes.
If the candidates do not realize the sensitivity of the situation and if they take any minor wrong step, Afghanistan will definitely go to deeper crisis and possibly to an ethnic and civil war again. The current situation is seen as an excellent opportunity for the enemies to facilitate environment for a civil war and a possible partition of the country. Scenarios such as interim and transitional government, changing the constitution and a collation government with the Taliban has already discussed among political elites. Prolonging election crisis is not in the interest of many actors, including the United States. Any delay in the election results and crisis can further challenge presence and legitimacy of the U.S. military in Afghanistan post 2014.
The winner of elections:
The election is over, but not the process and its now at a crucial stage. The two electoral bodies, the Independent Elections Commission and the Independent Complaints Commissions are responsible for an effective, transparent and impartial performance during the process. They should realize that the public is closely watching the process, which makes the destiny of Afghanistan and its people. The voters also have expectation from the two candidates to address election related issues through the electoral bodies and legitimate institutions and avoid any action, which can harm the emotion of millions voters, who have voted with lots of hopes, courage and at great risks. The candidates should closely work for a political solution, but solutions must not undermine the legal and constitutional process and it should not compromise justice and the rights of the public. Winning or losing in any, election is an essential part of the process. While the time will determine the winner and loser between these two candidates, but one thing is already clear that Afghans have won by saying NO to terrorism and YES to freedom.
Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam is social activist for promoting peace, justice and human rights. He is founder and Chairman of Afghan Anti-Corruption Network, a leading network of civil society organizations fighting corruption. He can be reached at @shafiqhamdam