Afghanistan is holding parliamentary elections on Saturday October 20 despite deep security concerns witnessed across the country and fears over electoral fraud.
This will be the third parliamentary election since the Taliban were removed in Power in 2001.
At least 20 provinces out of the country’s 34 provinces have witnessed fighting amid election.
2565 candidates will be contesting for 249 seats with 417 women candidates.
With no party political system, candidates therefore run as de-facto independents, although many are linked to political groups and factions, often based on ethnic loyalties.
There are fears the process may disenfranchise some voters, because the election commission says it will only accept votes validated through the biometric system, so technical faults or missing devices my cause problems.
Security situation (an election amid violence)
The election will test the readiness of the Afghan army and police who have been struggling to combat a rise in attacks by the Taliban this year.
It’s the first poll since Nato’s combat mission ended in December 2014, placing security responsibility for the election primarily with Afghan forces.
Nato’s Resolute Support Mission has promised to provide backup, as and when requested.
But with the Taliban openly active in as much as 70% of Afghanistan according to a BBC study published early this year, the security challenges are not being taken lightly.
The Taliban have urged people to boycott what they call “fake” elections. And Islamic State militants in Afghanistan have followed suit.
Since the poll was announced there have been several attacks on voter registration centres, the deadliest killing almost 60 people in Kabul in April, claimed by the Islamic State group.
At least 10 candidates were killed in attacks around the country in the run-up to the vote.
But Afghan officials have vowed to fully secure the elections and open most polling centres across the country.
In previous polls as many as 10% of polling centres remained closed because of security concerns. This time about a third of the more than 7,000 centres will be shut.
what about fraud?
Security isn’t the only issue threatening the vote.
Past elections have been marred by corruption and fraud, with cases of ballot box stuffing, multiple voting and voter intimidation all documented.
Ahead of the current elections, the problem of over-registration of voters in a handful of provinces has raised concerns with some observers.
In five provinces, the number of registered voters was higher than that of the estimated eligible voting population, according to figures published on the election commission website.
The anomaly appears to be in part due to the lack of a system that connects individuals to a physical address and a specific constituency, and the lack of a central database which collates everyone who has been registered.
Following protests by several political groups, the election commission agreed to demands to use biometric verification machines at all polling booths.
More than 20,000 of these hand-held devices are being distributed so voters’ fingerprints and pictures can be taken, in an attempt to make sure no one votes twice
What happens after the vote?
While in most countries initial results or exit polls come within 24 hours, in Afghanistan the process takes rather longer.
That’s in part due to logistical challenges like transporting the ballot boxes to Kabul from remote and insecure areas, and because of a multi-stage counting and verification process.
There will be three rounds of announcements: initial, preliminary and final results.
After voting ends, polling stations conduct a first vote count in the presence of observers.
The initial results sheet is sent to Kabul in a secure bag and a copy is posted outside the polling centre.
Further copies go to the candidate with the most votes, to the provincial complaints commission and another is placed inside the ballot box before it is sealed and transported back to the capital.
Once the boxes have arrived at the Election Commission’s main office, the votes are counted again.
Preliminary results are expected 20 days after the election, on 10 November. That’s followed by a lengthy period in which complaints can be made and addressed.
Final results are due by 20 December.
The election will see the future of Afghans who are desperate for a better life, jobs, education and an end to the war with the Taliban.
For the country’s foreign partners, seeing a flourishing democracy would be the return they’re seeking after many years of investment, billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost in more than a decade of fighting.
The poll is also seen as a test ahead of the all-important presidential elections due in April 2019.
MKARIMU MEDIA AND NEWS AGENCIES