Afghanistan: Monitor Warns of Violence, Intimidation Ahead of Parliamentary Elections
Kabul, June 16, 2010 – The Afghan government and international community must do more to ensure Afghanistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections are free and fair, said the country’s largest non-governmental election monitoring body. Additional security measures are needed to protect civilians during the electoral process, and women’s political rights must be safeguarded.
“These elections are coming at a very sensitive time,” said Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) executive director Jandad Spinghar. “Security is not good and anti-fraud mechanisms are still weak. The government needs to act quickly to ensure a clean process because Election Day is three months away.”
Preparations for the election are well underway and campaign season will officially kick off on June 23.
FEFA observers based in thirty one provinces during the nomination of candidates reported serious concerns over security, the ability of women to participate in the elections, and the capacity of electoral institutions.
A Climate of Insecurity and Intimidation
Many of the 700 candidates interviewed by FEFA observers expressed fears for their personal safety.
Insecurity on major roads, especially the presence of mines and improvised explosive devices posed a challenge for prospective candidates traveling from their home districts to candidate nomination centers in provincial capitals.
Intimidation of candidates by insurgent groups was a source of alarm among FEFA observers, who monitored security incidents in their provinces during the nomination period.
Night letters warning individuals not to run in the elections were issued by the Taliban in several districts in Khost, Logar and Paktika. In Logar, the threatening letters, posted overnight in public places, specifically warned that women standing for election would be targeted for violence.
But insurgent groups weren’t the only ones posing threats. Candidates running against powerful incumbents with histories of criminal activity and ties to armed groups expressed fear that they and their supporters would be subject to intimidation and violence during the campaigns.
“There is a lot of opportunity at the local level for local powerbrokers to intimidate candidates and voters,” Spinghar said.
In its recently released report on the nomination period, FEFA asked the Ministry of Interior to carry out individual security assessments for candidates and provide security accordingly.
With violence likely to increase during the elections, FEFA also called on Afghan and international security forces to do everything possible to protect civilians throughout the electoral process.
“Security forces should treat the elections as a process, not a single event,” said Spinghar. “People need to be protected before, during and after Election Day. Security will determine if observer organizations and institutions like the IEC [Independent Election Commission] and ECC [Electoral Complaints Commission] can expand their presence, whether candidates can get their messages out to voters during the campaigns, and whether voters, especially women, can actually vote.”
Women’s Political Rights Threatened
In a sign of political progress, the number of women candidates nationwide increased from 335 in 2005 to more than 400 this year. Yet, women still encountered barriers to their participation at the outset of this year’s electoral process, and some provinces saw steep decreases in the number of women running. Kunar province, for example, had 8 women candidates in 2005. This year it has only 2.
“There are big problems,” said Taiba Kawsary, FEFA’s outreach officer for women. “One is insecurity. Another is direct intimidation. Both decrease women’s ability to participate. In Logar, night letters against women have caused serious problems. Women have been afraid to attend [candidate] workshops.”
Lack of support from the IEC has also hindered women’s participation in the elections so far. Shortages of female staff were observed at all nomination centers FEFA covered, causing administrative delays that inconvenienced women seeking to register as candidates.
“There were very few women photographers to photograph women candidates during registration, for example,” said Kawsary.
In addition to jeopardizing women’s political rights, the lack of female election workers in many areas opens opportunities for fraud on Election Day.
FEFA will deploy 400 long-term observers during the campaign period and approximately 7,000 on Election Day in September.