Early Observation Reports from the Field
With less than a week to go until elections for Afghanistan's lower house of parliament, DI’s long-term observers in the field have been reporting their impressions of the pre-election environment.
Security: Many observers report security as the biggest factor affecting the electoral environment. Security impacts campaigning, the work of the Provincial Election Complaints Commissions and District Field Coordinators, and is anticipated to diminish voter turnout. Intimidation, vandalism and threats of violence are common in the most insecure provinces. All interviewed candidates in Nangarhar, where the IEC announced the planned closing of an additional 81 polling centers, reported to have received phone threats. Insurgent elements have been reported to be forcibly collecting voter cards and have issued threats that they will cut off inked fingers. Most provinces report security being worse than during last year’s election process.
Election Campaign: Campaigning is active in nearly all provinces, with posters and banners the most common means of outreach. Campaigns are particularly active in the city of Herat, where candidates hold meetings, maintain offices, appear in debates on TV and are buying media on TV and radio. Some candidates in other provinces like Panjshir, Balkh and even Nangarhar specified that they are holding rallies and door-to-door campaigns, despite the instability. Reports of use of government resources by particular candidates are a common issue in all provinces.
The emergence of rich business figures as candidates were identified as new developments in the campaigns in Balkh and Herat, where these candidates challenge traditional political structures and drive up the prices of television and radio advertising.
Election Preparations: Logistical preparation is underway in all provinces, with electoral material reported to have arrived in secure locations. Training for District Field Coordinators, Provincial Electoral Complaints Commissions and Polling Station staff has concluded or is underway in all provinces our observers visited. Many interlocutors our observers met with expressed a belief that both the management of logistical preparations and the transparency of the process has improved since last year.
Some expressed concerns about the influence of local power brokers on District Field Coordinators and other provincial IEC staff; in some cases they are reported to have been transferred to other districts or provinces to reduce the potential for corruption. Nearly all Provincial Electoral Complaints Commissions report working under pressure and intimidation and operating with limited resources. Their ability to deal with complaints seems to vary considerably.
Inaccessible polling stations are a problem in some provinces, either because of logistical challenges or security problems. The availability of female body searchers for election day appears to be a concern around the country. Reports persist of the production of fake voter registration cards, active markets in the purchase of voter cards, or selective difficulties in obtaining the cards among particular constituencies.
Civic/Voter Education: Voter education varies from province to province. The Herat team attended a three day voter education workshop for 70 men and women under the age of 30. Topics covered included democratic principles, the election process, and the compatibility of democracy with Islam. The Balkh team also attended a voter education course administered by the Provincial Independent Election Commission which was held at a high school for girls and was well-attended. In Bamyan, posters urging voter participation are visible and attractive. UNAMA has a political outreach program and a mobile radio program reportedly travels to districts in Bamyan.