As the Afghanistan presidential election commences, there is a simmering interest among the general public for the selection of a strong government in the country.
Besides, the general masses are tired of bloodshed and Taliban rule, and the agenda for these polls has changed to better jobs, a stable governance and women empowerment.
With pre-election violence raising its ugly head, it has become much more imperative for the country to participate in large numbers in these polls.
Hopes are high that Afghanistan may witness some change. The international media is watching the proceedings closely, especially as United States has strategic interest in the country.
Image Credit: Reuters
The first democratic transfer of power from one Afghan chief executive to another in the country's history will also be a real test for Afghanistan's fledgling governmental institutions. A high voter turnout will limit the possibility of fraud, legitimise the elected government, signal unity and determination to Afghanistan's neighbours, renew the country's relationship with the international community, and more importantly reaffirm that the country is responding to international nation-building efforts.
The Afghan-led internationally supported election process aims to organise a better election on democratic principles according to the country's constitution, adopted in 2004, and without the stain of extensive electoral fraud undermining the credibility and acceptability of the process.
The elections will also be the country's first democratic presidential race without incumbent Hamid Karzai.
In 2014, Karzai, true to the Afghan constitution, will step aside and, contrary to the supposition of sceptics, has thus far not attempted to manipulate an extension. He has, however, injected a fair bit of excitement and uncertainty by his refusal to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US, and raised the possibility of the so-called "zero option" of no US troops in Afghanistan post-2014.
Besides the election for a new president of Afghanistan, concurrently taking place are elections for each of the country's 34 provincial councils. The last provincial council elections, like this year, took place in 2009 alongside the presidential polls, and are significant for many Afghans, as the provincial councils are their primary link to governance.
Backdrop to the elections:
The process for the presidential election began in November 2013, following the candidate nomination procedure, after which 11 candidates were officially registered.
Since then, three candidates have withdrawn. Of the remaining candidates, three are considered to be front-runners: Abdullah Abdullah (former foreign minister and runner-up in 2009's presidential election), Ashraf Ghani (former finance minister), and Zalmai Rassoul (former foreign minister).
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.
If none of the currently contesting eight candidates win 50% of the vote, then the top two candidates in terms of votes face each other in a run-off. According to the Afghan Constitution and electoral law, the run-off must take place two weeks after the certification of the results of the first round.
The campaign crowds have been massive, the interest in the debates intense, giving the voters, perhaps for the first time, a choice and a responsibility. One of the success stories since 2001 has been the growth and development of civil society, women's groups and the participation of the youth.
68% of the population is under 25 years of age, and according to the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC), around 3.8 million new voters have registered to vote, of which more than a third are women. Besides the fact that the three presidential contenders have selected women to be their second vice presidential candidates, three hundred women candidates are in running for provincial council seats.
Image Credit: Reuters
Several international organisations and groups are sending technical teams of 10-15 experts each to carry out long-term observation. Local Afghan observer organisations are planning to deploy around 15,000 observers. The Free and Fair Elections Foundation (FEFA) reports that it has registered 10,000; FEFA has observed every Afghan election since 2004.
In order to prevent corruption and vandalisation of poll booths, the Election Commission of Afghanistan has taken some measures
The instances at which data is checked during the tally process include the following:
* At the tally centre check-in, result forms from all over the country are checked for physical irregularities and tampering
* During data entry, results are subject to mathematical and quality control checks embedded in the database software
* Incoming suspicious results may be subject to audits involving checking electoral material stored at the provincial offices/warehouses or recounting polling stations’ ballots
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* Before consolidated results are presented to the IEC chief electoral office and the IEC commissioners, they are checked by an Operations Group consisting of senior IEC staff (Operations Group also advises commissioners on the need to carry out investigations with regard to any of the results sheet received)
* The IEC says, according to its strategy, it will transparently follow up on issues brought to its attention by observers or media
Kabul has seen a series of terror attacks in the days just before the election:
Image Credit: Reuters
2 April 2014: suicide attack on the Ministry of Interior, at least six policemen reported killed
29 March 2014: attack on the headquarters of the Independent Election Commission (IEC); after almost six hours of fighting, two policemen were reported wounded
28 March 2014: attack on an NGO guesthouse, it seems mistakenly targeted: the actual target was the next-door community centre called a ‘church’ in Taliban statements; two Afghans killed – a driver waiting outside and a girl who happened to be on the street
25 March 2014: attack on a Kabul Provincial IEC sub-office. Five killed, including two policemen and a provincial council candidate
21 March 2014: attack on the Serena Hotel, nine civilians killed, including five Afghans, two Canadians (a teacher and a doctor), an American and a Paraguayan election observer
The Afghan elections are being keenly discussed on social media platforms, including Twitter:
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) April 2, 2014
— Brian Chidester (@ChidesterAB) April 4, 2014
Those journalists in Afghanistan were attacked by who? Police officers there monitoring the elections. Please let's leave Afghanistan
— Rail Splitter (@splendidhammer) April 4, 2014