Afghanistan’s independent election commission has started registering voters in the insurgency-hit country. It hopes to register millions of new voters ahead of democratic presidential elections next autumn. Observers fear the rise in Islamist extremism could derail the whole process.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is bidding for another term: His five years come to an end next autumn
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s five-year term comes to an end next year. He is bidding for another term in the presidential elections scheduled for the autumn.
After much debate on whether the elections should go ahead as scheduled in view of the growing insurgency, the consensus was that the democratic elections were too important to be postponed.
The election commission got to work registering voters immediately.
Four phases to cover 34 provinces
Working closely with the country’s security bodies, it has worked out a detailed plan for the registration process, which will take place in four phases.
Zekria Barakzai is the deputy head of the election commission: “We are starting in 14 of the country’s provinces. We will register voters in these provinces and then the registration process will continue in 10 more provinces. Then another six more provinces and finally the last four of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.”
The election commission has employed 1,500 extra people to complete the task. Protected by the security forces, they will register voters in 750 voting districts. Last time, there were 12 million registered voters.
“Those who voted in the last elections can use their registration cards again. People who have moved or lost their card will get new cards. People who have turned 18 since the last elections are now also eligible to vote. And finally, we have to register all the refugees who have returned from abroad,” says Barakzai.
A risky undertaking
Considering the extremely volatile security situation, the deputy head of the election commission is aware that the registration process is a very risky undertaking but he is confident the Afghan security forces and ISAF peacekeepers will ensure peace and order.
However, this trust is not shared by all the population -- especially not in the country’s south and east, where insurgent attacks are on the rise.
“The situation is very serious,” says the 35-year-old Mahmud from Panjawaie in the unruly southern province of Kandahar. “The Taliban are everywhere. If I go to vote, I’ll be killed for sure. In this district, 99 percent of the population won’t be able to vote.”
But the former officer Gul Lala thinks that the elections can take place if appropriate security measures are taken -- especially in the cities: “The elections will take place in Kandahar, God willing, so long as the people’s safety is guaranteed.“
Democracy is at stake
Four years ago, 100,000 troops ensured that the last elections took place without much incident. This time the security situation is much more critical.
There will be even more troops on hand to keep watch over the whole election process, which is expected to cost over 100 US million dollars.
The legitimisation of the new Afghan government is at stake and, therefore, the democratic peace process as a whole.