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Home > Publications > PISM Spotlights > PISM Spotlight: Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan: An Act of Defiance Amid War

PISM Spotlight: Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan: An Act of Defiance Amid War

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24 October 2018
Patryk Kugiel
no. 75/2018

Despite a series of terrorist attacks and organisational problems, parliamentary elections were held in Afghanistan on 20 October. Although the government in Kabul considered it a success, the election indicated Afghan democracy faces serious challenges.

What was the context of the election?

Delayed three and a half years, elections took place in this country ravaged by war. From January to October, nearly 3,000 civilians died—5% more than in the same period a year earlier—and more than 5,000 were injured. Even greater losses were borne by the security forces and armed opposition groups. The new U.S. strategy of increasing military pressure on the Taliban has not yet had the expected results. The Taliban also rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s peace plan presented in February and called for a boycott of the elections. In attacks on voter registration centres and election rallies since July, several hundred civilians were killed, including 10 candidates for parliament. Nevertheless, the elections went ahead, due also to pressure from Afghanistan’s foreign partners, which still maintain more than 16,000 troops in the country through the NATO training mission, including Poland and its 315 soldiers, and pay billions of dollars to rebuild the country.

How did the vote go?

More than 2,500 candidates were vying for 250 seats in the lower chamber of parliament. In two of the 34 provinces (Kandahar and Ghazni), the vote was postponed and for about a third of the areas with a large presence of Taliban, voting did not take place at all (unplanned). On the day of the election, there were 192 election-related security incidents in which as many as 78 people may have died, including 28 members of the security forces. Organisation and logistics problems also had a negative impact on the course of the elections. Many polling places opened late, employees did not show up, and some did not correctly manage electronic voting machines, which were introduced at the very last moment to prevent fraud. As a result, voting at 276 sites had to be extended for another day. Despite these problems, nearly 4 million Afghans voted, which is almost half of the registered voters (9 million), but only a quarter of the 16 million or so adults in the country.

What is the significance of these elections for Afghanistan?

This was the third parliamentary election since 2001 and the first since the NATO military mission ended in 2014. It was a test of the effectiveness of the state apparatus before next year’s presidential election. The authorities in Kabul claimed the elections were a success and that the Taliban attempts to derail it were a failure. Several million Afghans demonstrated their attachment to the democratic system. Foreign partners may also consider these elections as justification for further support for Afghanistan before the November conference of donors in Geneva. However, the low turnout, organisational chaos, and numerous irregularities may lead to questioning the legitimacy and credibility of the results. The Taliban also are gradually reducing the areas of the country where elections can be safely held.

What’s next?

The preliminary results will be announced only on 10 November and the final results on 20 December. In this period, complaints and election protests will be considered. At the same time, preparations for the presidential election, as well as for provincial and district councils, planned for April 2019, are starting. If the main candidates and political forces undermine the results of the parliamentary elections, it will deepen the political crisis in the country and hinder the subsequent elections. In the coming months, the Afghan authorities are likely to focus on improving security and removing irregularities, complementing electoral rolls,  and recruitment and training of officials. It is unlikely that the Taliban will abandon their armed struggle and take part in the presidential election; therefore, if there is no U.S. peace agreement with the Taliban, one can expect an intensification of the conflict and equally difficult elections in 2019.

 


 
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