An Afghan man is costing his vote in 2018 parliamentary election in Kabul

Concerns remain high as Afghanistan prepares to go to 2019 presidential polls

With five days remaining to the deadline of transferring sensitive electoral materials to polling centers in 387 districts across the country, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) lags behind the task of delivering the materials, say election watchdogs. The IEC has just delivered election materials to 120 districts.    

Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, spokesperson for the IEC, told Kabul Now that the sensitive materials including ballot papers, biometric devices, result sheets, voters’ list, and complaint sheets have been delivered to 120 districts in 34 provinces. He stresses that the process will be completed within five days across the country.

Meanwhile, Mirza Mohammad Haqparast, a deputy spokesperson for the IEC, told Kabul Now that the sensitive materials will be transferred to district centers within the next two days, and the materials will be transported to polling centers by September 27.

A number of civil society organizations and election watchdogs, however, criticize that the process is not proceeding consistent with election timeline. These institutions say IEC’s figure about transporting materials was not clear. The process of transferring materials from IEC’s provincial centers to district centers began on September 13 and it should be completed by September 27, according to election timeline.

Though the IEC has not announced the exact number of districts where Afghanistan’s 2019 presidential elections will be held, Sayed Shah Muqeem, spokesperson for the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), had previously told Kabul Now that 25 districts were out of the control of the government where the election will not be held.

The election watchdogs, however, say insecurity and IEC’s reluctance to share information about the process are a challenge in election process.

Yousuf Rasheed, the executive director for Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA), says dozens of districts are currently under high security threats. “In addition to a possible suspension of the process of transferring the sensitive materials, the issue also creates challenges for security forces,” he said, notifying that the Afghan security forces could become more vulnerable to the attacks of the militants.

Habibullah Shinwari, a program manager at the Elections and Transparency Watch Organization of Afghanistan (ETWA) believes that security problems have caused delay in timely delivering of materials in some districts. “Change in the plan of how to deliver materials is not that easy,” Shinwari stated while expressing concern over delay in delivering materials to polling centers in due time.

The IEC is deliberately keeping the election watchdogs away of progress made in the process, he said. “Though the biometric devices cannot function well to save and identify voters’ face, the IEC have sent devices and the ballot papers to provinces without giving any clarification,” he noted. Mr. Shinwari highlighted that the IEC needed to share details of the sensitive materials sent to every polling centers with election observers.

The presidential election should to be postponed for 20 days, November 17, so that we can have a transparent and acceptable election, he suggested.

Rejecting accusation made by Shinwari, the IEC, however assured that measures have been taken to deliver materials by September 27—a day before the election.

Mirza Mohammad Haqparast said that election process was under close monitor by election observers and nothing was hidden from the observers. He further said biometric devices are ready and all voters will be identified by this devices.

The remarks made by Haqparast were rejected by the ETWA.

Rohullah Ahmadzai, spokesperson to the Ministry of Defense, said in a press conference in Kabul that the Afghan defense and security forces were completely prepared to ensure safety of the presidential polls. Rejecting any possible delay in the process, he stressed that foreign forces were also supporting the Afghan forces to ensure safety of the process.

In August 22, the Ministry of Interior along with the Ministry of Defense announced that around 72,000 security forces have been assigned to ensure security of as many as 4,942 polling centers across the country in the upcoming presidential elections.

16 candidates, including the incumbent president, Ashraf Ghani, and Chief Executive Abdullah, are running for 2019 presidential polls that is set to be held on Saturday, September 28.