Kabul voters wrestle with newspaper-sized ballot paper

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Election workers pull a cart loaded with biometric devices in Kabul. (AFP)
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Employees of the Independent Election Commission take notes of sealed biometric device materials at a warehouse in Kabul. (AFP)
Updated 12 October 2018
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Kabul voters wrestle with newspaper-sized ballot paper

  • Each voter can only choose one candidate, but finding them on Kabul’s giant ballot paper could be time consuming
  • More than 1.6 million votes are up for grabs, more than any other province

KABUL: More than 800 faces, 15 pages, one vote. Kabul voters will wrestle with newspaper-sized ballot papers on October 20, racing to find their candidate in a city under constant threat from militant attacks.
The huge number of parliamentary hopefuls vying to represent Kabul province, where around one-fifth of Afghanistan’s population lives, is the highest of anywhere in the country.
The candidates account for almost a third of the more than 2,500 people contesting long-delayed elections for Afghanistan’s lower house, or Wolesi Jirga.
Each voter can only choose one candidate, but finding them on Kabul’s giant ballot paper, which is roughly the size of a tabloid newspaper, could be time consuming.
It is hardly ideal when the risk of the Taliban or the Daesh group attacking polling centers is high.
Militants have vowed to target the ballot and those organizing it, calling the polls a “malicious American conspiracy.”
To make the process easier and faster for voters, candidates are advertising their numerical position and ballot page number — along with their often digitally enhanced photos — on campaign posters on lamp posts, billboards and blast walls around the province.
The key numbers appear alongside symbols such as palm trees, lions or spectacles, used by each candidate to enable illiterate voters to identify them.
With lofty promises of pushing for “change,” “justice” and even making “streets from gold, schools from diamonds and universities from emeralds,” candidates are locked in a fierce battle for the 33 seats allocated to Kabul.
More than 1.6 million votes are up for grabs — more than any other province — according to Independent Election Commission (IEC) voter registration data.
But many suspects that a significant number of those may be fake, created by fraudsters using counterfeit identification documents that could be used to stuff ballot boxes.
Biometric verification machines designed to prevent people voting more than once are scheduled to be used — but there are fears these may not arrive at polling centers in time, or fail to work.
An eleventh-hour decision to use the devices for the first time in an Afghan election has left beleaguered organizers scrambling to import and distribute them to more than 5,000 polling centers ahead of the vote.
While Afghan law does not require the use of biometric verification, votes cast without it will not be counted, IEC spokesman Sayed Hafizullah Hashimi said.
Despite the unusual size of Kabul’s ballot paper — and the potential for hundreds of thousands of votes to be cast — Hashimi said regular boxes would be used to collect ballots on election day.
“We have around six million people (in Kabul) — it is very populated,” Hashimi said.
“If the boxes fill up, we have reserve boxes.”


US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

In this Nov. 6, 2018, photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, listens during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at the presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)
Updated 30 min 16 sec ago
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US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

  • Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process

KABUL: A US newspaper report that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering asking the Afghan government to postpone the presidential election has drawn backing from some in Afghanistan’s political quarters, while others have criticized it.
The report comes amid speculation that the presidential poll will be delayed and that instead an interim government will be formed involving the Taliban leaders in a effort to end the 17-year-long conflict.
It comes after last month’s long-delayed and chaotic parliamentary elections and the renewed US efforts for peace talks which involved the appointment of special US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Khalilzad in recent weeks has spoken with leaders of the regional powers, Taliban emissaries and the Afghan government as well as regional strongmen, some of whom fear that the outcome of presidential poll in a fractured government at this time may push the country into deeper chaos.
On Tuesday, citing US officials, The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington was looking into postponing the vote.
“The possibility of such a step, one of several options being considered by US officials, is a sign of the urgency the administration sees in trying to broker a political breakthrough in a conflict that has bedeviled three successive American presidents,” The Wall Street Journal said.
The current administration of the joint National Unity Government (NUG), where the power is shared by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah, was formed as a result of allegedly rigged polls held in 2014.
Public frustration has mounted over the NUG’s failure to curb the crime rate, alleviate poverty and stop the deadly attacks by militants in the past four years.
Some politicians push for formation of an interim government, while others, including former President Hamid Karzai, deem the convocation of a traditional assembly, known as Loya Jirga, as a solution for the political and security crisis the country faces.
Officials close to Ghani, who is standing for re-election in the April 20 vote, said the poll will have to take place.
“Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process. Any other proposal that runs contrary to the Afghan constitution and people will not be acceptable to our people,” Fazel Fazly, an adviser to Ghani, said.
Abdullah, following the Wall Street Journal report, met on Tuesday with the US Ambassador to Kabul, John R. Bass. Abdullah in a tweet said he discussed the parliamentary and presidential elections with Bass, who told him that “the upcoming presidential election will take place on time.”
Later in the day, Bass said the US was helping Afghans to hold the elections based on the time stipulated, but added that the Afghans themselves can choose the time
for it.
“We remain committed to helping the electoral commissions and the Afghan government to prepare for the presidential elections in April 2019. Timing of the Afghan election is for the Afghans to decide,” he said in a statement. Bashir Bezhen, a lawmaker in President Ghani’s government, argued that delaying the polls goes against the constitution and it will damage the credibility of the US as well.
“This issue (the US option for delaying polls) is in violation of the constitution and it will also be a blow to US prestige because Afghanistan’s fate has its impact on the US as it has been fighting here for over 17 years,” he told Arab News.
However, he said there is no guarantee that a proper time will come that can pave the way for fair elections.
“We do not have the hope for a democratic, free, transparent election under this government and the current situation, but to hope that things will get better is a merely a dream.”
He said if the election is not held on time, then one solution would be an interim government or convocation of Loya Jirga and either way, Ghani will lose.
“Ghani is keen to hold the poll so he can win by fraudulently stuffing the ballot boxes. We feel worried about the future both if the election is held or delayed, but we have to know... what will happen if the polls are not held.”
Mohammad Nateqi, a politician, former diplomat and member of the government-appointed High Peace Council, said delaying the poll is necessary if it can lead to peace with the Taliban.
“If an interim administration or postponing of the election can help a comprehensive peace process, then it (delaying the poll) will not be a problem,” he said.