Afghans skeptical about transparency, security of October elections

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a recent news conference in Kabul. (Reuters)
Updated 01 April 2018

Afghans skeptical about transparency, security of October elections

KABUL: The Afghan National Unity Government (NUG) has appointed an election commission and set Oct. 20 as the date for parliamentary and district elections.
The moves follows more than three years of delay due to security threats and NUG infighting.
But some politicians, lawmakers and ordinary Afghans doubt the vote will be transparent, free or secure, as militant attacks have become more prevalent since June 2015, the original date for the long-delayed elections.
The October poll is seen as a test of the ability of the US and the NUG to deal with challenges ahead of the 2019 presidential and provincial council elections.
Given the closeness of the timeline, the election commission and the NUG face colossal tasks and challenges to hold the poll, according to lawmakers and experts.
Voter registration is set to kick off in mid-April, but the election body has yet to hire enough officials, establish offices in the 34 provinces, or appoint heads of the secretariat for the commission and for the electoral complaints body.
The fate of the much-touted electronic national ID cards, aimed at preventing fraud, is in limbo.
An ID is a must for a would-be voter, but some lawmakers say more than half of Afghans do not possess them, and given the slow pace of work, graft and bureaucracy in government institutions, it is highly unlikely that enough IDs will be printed in time.
More than 3,000 of the 7,000 voting centers are either under serious or medium threat, or out of the NUG’s control, say election experts and some MPs.
“Our perspective is that elections must be held to give legitimacy to Parliament, which can ensure the legality of the government. This is very important,” Habibullah Shinwary, an official at the Elections Transparency Organization for Afghanistan (ETOA), told Arab News.
“But we have deep concerns about logistics and security, raising doubt as to whether we can really hold elections.”
The ETOA has raised on numerous occasions its concerns with government organs and the election commission, he said.
“But unfortunately, the government hasn’t taken any action or acted properly. It takes action when it’s too late.”
Sayed Ali Kazemi, a lawmaker from Kabul, told Arab News: “People have lots of questions about these elections. Parliament asked the commission today (Saturday) to appear before lawmakers to answer our questions and those of the people, but it didn’t turn up.”
Security threats during voter registration and on election day are the most important concern of ordinary Afghans, MP Nazifa Zaki told Arab News.
Taliban attacks during the last election deterred people from voting, led to killings and enabled fraud, she added.
The government has vowed to secure voting centers by the time of the elections.
A Taliban spokesman told Arab News that it has yet to come up with an official stance on the vote.


Paris: 4 wounded in knife attack near ex-Charlie Hebdo site

Updated 1 min 36 sec ago

Paris: 4 wounded in knife attack near ex-Charlie Hebdo site

PARIS: Four people were wounded in a knife attack Friday near the former offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and two assailants are on the run, police said.
Associated Press reporters at the scene saw police flooding into the neighborhood in eastern Paris, near the Richard Lenoir subway station.
Police are “actively hunting” for the perpetrators and have cordoned off the area including the former Charlie Hebdo offices after a suspect package was noticed nearby, according to a police offical.
The motive for the attack is unclear, and it is not clear whether it is linked to Charlie Hebdo, which moved its activities out of the area after Islamic extremists attacked its editorial offices in 2015, killing 12 people.
Police did not release the identities of the attackers or the wounded, who include two people in “absolutely urgent” condition, the official said. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.
Prime Minister Jean Castex cut short a visit to a suburb north of Paris to head to the Interior Ministry to follow developments.
The trial in the Charlie Hebdo attacks is currently underway across town. Murmurs broke at the terrorism trial of 14 people, including 3 fugitives, accused of helping the attackers in the January 2015 killings, as the news filtered through. The widows of the Charlie Hebdo attackers are scheduled to testify Friday afternoon.