Success of the upcoming elections in Afghanistan hinges on the independence and effectiveness of electoral institutions, wide voter participation, and a strong antifraud strategy. Recent changes in electoral law pave the way for a legitimate process, but much depends on how well Afghanistan’s electoral commissions can carry out their roles.

Summary

  • The constitution of Afghanistan, though formally enshrining the internationally recognized standards of a “free, universal, secret, and direct vote” for elected institutions, is a flawed document with respect to many aspects of the electoral process.
  • Deficiencies in the electoral legislation have been addressed. For the first time, the legislation governing the polls has been adopted by parliament rather than issued by decree. In addition, the commissioners for both the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) are appointed through a consultative process involving the legislature and judiciary, and not simply by presidential appointment as was the case previously.
  • Despite these important legislative changes, the IEC and ECC remain somewhat dependent on the executive branch to fulfill their functions. It will be important that they demonstrate through their decisions a consistent attitude of independence that allows the elections to take place in an atmosphere of maximum trust.
  • Security will be the main challenge for the next round of elections in the country. The IEC needs to make its own independent assessment of the security situation in the country and avoid the creation of ghost polling centers, which was one of the reasons for massive fraud in the past.
  • Given that a comprehensive polling center–specific voter registry was not possible, the IEC needs to adopt an effective antifraud strategy based on deterrence, detection, and mitigation of electoral fraud.
  • Special attention should be paid to the establishment and effective functioning of the ECC. Its late establishment and lack of operational capabilities will have a negative impact on the credibility of upcoming elections.
  • The technical deficiencies of the IEC, including staffing, election budget, and effective international technical assistance, should be addressed as soon as possible.

About the Report

Since the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, Afghanistan has held four rounds of elections: the 2004 presidential race, the 2005 and 2010 Wolesy Jirga and provincial council contests, and the 2009 presidential and provincial council votes. The 2014 elections—which will occur as international security forces are preparing to leave the country—will be a barometer of how effective U.S. and other foreign forces were in bringing a genuine democratic process to the country.

About the Author

Zekria Barakzai is currently a senior policy adviser to Afghanistan’s anticorruption office, a senior consultant to Democracy International Afghanistan, and general director of Democracy Watch Afghanistan. From 2005 to 2013, he served as a high-ranking official with Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission and worked as a counterpart to the head of the legal department of the country ’s Joint Electoral Management Body. Barakzai holds a master’s degree in international relations.

Related Publications

The Fatemiyoun Army: Reintegration into Afghan Society

The Fatemiyoun Army: Reintegration into Afghan Society

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

By: Ahmad Shuja Jamal

Since 2013, as many as 50,000 Afghans have fought in Syria as part of the Fatemiyoun, a pro-Assad force organized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Based on field interviews with former fighters and their families, this Special Report examines the motivations of members of the Afghan Shia Hazara communities who joined the Fatemiyoun as well as the economic and political challenges of reintegrating them into Afghan society.

Civilian-Military Relations; Fragility & Resilience

What Can Make Displaced People More Vulnerable to Extremism?

What Can Make Displaced People More Vulnerable to Extremism?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

By: Belquis Ahmadi; Rahmatullah Amiri; Sadaf Lakhani

As the international community works to prevent new generations of radicalization in war-torn regions, debate focuses often on the problem of people uprooted from their homes—a population that has reached a record high of 68.5 million people. Public discussion in Europe, the United States and elsewhere includes the notion that displaced peoples are at high risk of being radicalized by extremist groups such as ISIS. Scholars and peacebuilding practitioners have rightly warned against such generalizations, underscoring the need to learn which situations may make uprooted people vulnerable to radicalization. A new USIP study from Afghanistan notes the importance of specific conditions faced by displaced people—and it offers indications suggesting the importance for policy of supporting early interventions to stabilize the living conditions of displaced people after they return home.

Violent Extremism

Afghanistan Talks: No Women, No Peace

Afghanistan Talks: No Women, No Peace

Friday, March 1, 2019

By: Belquis Ahmadi

As talks between the U.S. and the Taliban raise hopes for peace in Afghanistan, the country’s women fear another—and related—possibility: That their hard-won rights to participate in the nation’s political and economic life could again be washed away by the Taliban’s rigid views on gender.

Gender; Peace Processes

Intra-Afghan Peace Negotiations: How Might They Work

Intra-Afghan Peace Negotiations: How Might They Work

Friday, February 22, 2019

By: Sean Kane

Recent positive developments in the Afghan peace process have renewed hopes that the country’s 17-year-old conflict could come to a close. Direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, however, are likely to involve complex constitutional questions. This Special Report provides...

Peace Processes

View All Publications