Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Electoral Integrity: The Difficult but Possible Path Towards Fair and Free Elections

Regular elections by themselves cannot guarantee true democracy anywhere; however, they serve as one of the major indicators for measuring an effective democratic process. In other words, they provide the electorate with the opportunity to change a government which fails to deliver.
Indeed, elections can further democracy, development, human rights, and security, or undermine them, and for this reason alone, they (elections) should command attention. Considering the current social, security and development conditions in Afghanistan, elections can play a critical role to further deteriorate these issues or improve them.  To ensure Afghan elections embody democracy, further development and promote security, they must be conducted with integrity.
Keeping in view the previous elections in Afghanistan, when it comes to flawed elections, the scale of (electoral) irregularities in Afghanistan is immense and more than in many other countries in the region and beyond. Therefore, one aspect of the Afghan elections that may everyone agrees with it is that poorly conducted elections have become the norm in Afghanistan, with the attendant “remarkable barriers on stability, regime legitimacy and good, democratic governance.
According to Democracy Index-2016 Afghanistan, among 51 other countries, comes under Authoritarian regime. Nonetheless, democracy experts underscore the significance of elections and why increasing the scope of electoral integrity has therefore become central to the concern for democratic consolidation in the country.
How to address challenges faced in conducting elections with integrity
It is the most difficult task the IEC is in charge in Afghanistan. We may take for granted that it is an easy job: a piece of cake, but it is not so. Thus, the more general, good lesson, of the successful elections is that: although relatively difficult, it is not impossible to conduct elections with integrity in nowhere including Afghanistan. What counts is that, there must be comprehensive planning, effective organization, focus, and resilience, relative autonomy of the IEC as well as its impartiality and integrity.
To conduct the forthcoming elections with integrity, Afghanistan shall overcome six major in preparing for and conducting the 2018 elections. These include how to strengthen the IEC, cleanse its negative image acquired over time and make it efficient and effective; how to deal with persistent, prevalent aspects of electoral fraud, including ballot paper and results sheet snatching, ballot stuffing, multiple voting, etc.; and making Election Day logistics and procedures transparent, accountable and efficient.
The other challenges are, creating a level playing field, and how to protect and strengthen the relative autonomy of IEC in its relations with the political parties, the legislature and the incumbent executive arm of government.
To tackle these challenges, IEC shall undertake some quick actions on planning, programming and leadership by example. The electoral body shall also introduce the use of technology to secure sensitive election materials; biometric registration; and online verification of registration status using SMS.
Additionally, IEC in its drive for transparency and accountability also shall redefine its mode of engagement with key stakeholders, such as the International Community, political parties, civil society organizations, media, security operatives, the government as well as traditional and religious leaders.
Delivering electoral integrity in Afghanistan is a collective responsibility. It involves the active participation of multiple stakeholders, governments, IEC, civil society organizations, the electorate, media, the security apparatus and election observers and monitors, local and international.  This is a delicate team work and any flaw or irregularity has the potential to trigger avoidable conflagration that could undermine the peace process and further deteriorate social divisions in the country, increase the gap between the people and government, worsen security and also derail democracy.