Herat, the foremost province in western Afghanistan, and one of the country’s cultural and economic hubs, is soon going to face parliamentary elections. Local authorities in the province are struggling to hold a transparent election, amidst all the security concerns and electoral challenges haunting the province.
According to an interview with local authorities of Herat, the province is undergoing serious problems can make it hard and even impossible to hold the elections.
Herat has 161 candidates, 28 of whom are women. Only 17 candidates with the highest votes qualify to enter the House of Representatives.
Elections in Herat
A civil society activist in Herat province, Sayed Wase Sayedi told Khabarnama that the voter registration process in the province ended well despite all the challenges. There were many people in the districts as well who are willing to register themselves for the election.
Herat has recorded more than 3 million population in recent years, out of which about 1 million is eligible to vote, and only 500,000 still, have registered as voters.
According to an IEC report, 539,141 people from Herat province have participated in the registration process, of whom 297,391 are men, 239,818 women. 1932 are estimated to be nomads (Kuchis).
Despite the figures reported by Independent Elections Commission (IEC), the head of the Provincial Elections Commission in Herat, Ahmad Shah Qanuni, told Khabarnama that 500,570 people from the province participated in the registration process, out of which approximately 45 percent are women.
According to the head of the Herat Election Commission, in some areas of the province where polling stations were blocked, people were not able to participate in the registration process.
He added that some polling stations belonging to areas where the registration process had been carried out also may remain closed due to high security threats.
Mr. Qanuni added: “462 polling centers have been established in the province with 300 active centers, and the remaining centers are closed because they are outside the reach of government forces. It is likely that these centers will remain blocked on Election Day and people will not be able to participate in the election. ”
Temporary and Duplicate Tazkiras
The former head of the Herat Civil Society Organizations, Ahmad Shafiq Behruzian, who is now a candidate for the upcoming elections, told Khabarnama: “At the beginning of the registration process in the province, despite the problems, people’s participation seemed robust. However, due to the lack of precise planning by the IEC and the government, the grounds for fraud in the province have been created. Because the Commission initially authorized the sticker attachment on the copy of the tazkira, a number of people used copies with stickers attached in multiple registration centers.”
Many people from different parts of Herat could get multiple temporary tazkiras which were easily accessible from tazkira distribution centers and subsequently had them get attached by electoral stickers.
The good thing in this elections cycle is that there will be no additional ballot papers that will be issued to polling station. The ballot paper issued will thus, be corroborated according to the recorded figure of Tazkiras and stickers distributed in the registration centers.
AFG 2.2 Million Expenditure Cap per Candidate
Another problem that has been noted by officials and citizens of Herat is the violation of the electoral laws.
According to the law designated by the IEC, for each province, based on the population of that particular province, a ceiling on total campaign expenditure for candidates has been set, which in Herat is AFG 2.2 million per candidate. But in this province, it seems that every parliamentary candidate is spending the same amount on a daily basis committing an electoral offense in accordance with the election law.
“Along with the technical and security problems in Herat province, another challenge is that the candidates are not behaving professionally. They are not dealing with the political, legal and social issues with mutual respect and peaceful coexistence, which causes disruption and dispute among the candidates. Any candidate does not let others to organize a campaign in their area by creating nuisance.”
Security a Concern Depriving People the Right to Vote
Herat is one of those provinces where security problems pose as one of the serious challenges. These challenges have had the greatest impact on the electoral activities and programs in the province.
In some areas of Herat such as Shindand, Keshak-e-RobatSangi, Keshk-e-Kohna, Farsi and other districts which are far from the center of the province, there has been a critical security situation that has caused residents of these districts to not participate in the registration process.
Responding to such problems, Herat governor spokesman, Jailani Farhad, told Khabarnama that serious security problems are prevalent in five or six districts of the province, and they are trying to eliminate these security threats.
“In some places, such as the Shindand, Golran and Farsi districts, due to poor security, people were unable to participate in the registration process,” head of the Herat Provincial Election Commission, told Khabarnama.
Civil society activist, Seyed Wase Sayedi also noted that during the registration process, “the Taliban cut off fingers of two persons. They wanted to take part in the elections, and in some areas people were still threatened against participating in the process due to the fear of murder or physical violence. “
In the recent past, there were two explosions that had taken place in Herat province, one near the election commission, and another that targeted a police ranger with a magnetic mine in Darwaz-e-Khoshk area.
A Taliban-Approved Candidate
The Head of Provincial Council, Kamran Alizai told Khabarnama that security is one of the major issues in the province. For example, in Kohsan district, the offices of candidates have been targeted.
On the other hand, he also reminds that, after 6 pm the provision of telecommunications services is restricted and most of the networks do not operate, which itself is a security concern.
The former Herat civil society network director, Ahmad Shafiq Behruzian, also emphasized in his speeches that what the Herat citizens are most concerned about is the Taliban and the security situation because the Taliban have threatened people in some areas and did have not let them even register for the process. Therefore, many people are deprived of the right to vote.
“The Taliban have declared in some areas that they have no objection with holding elections, unless people vote for the candidate that they back,” he added, “The Taliban have put a fear of violence in people’s heads if the people do not vote for the Taliban-backed candidate”
In confirmation of the above remarks, Herat governor spokesman, Jailani Farhad also told Khabarnama: “We have not yet received any report if the Taliban have infiltrated and gotten involved in electoral affairs, but it is possible that in the distant areas where the security forces have less access, insurgents are trying to support a particular person for the elections. But this does not mean that these challenges will prevent the election.”
“People’s enthusiasm for the election and their participation in the registration process shows that there is no serious hurdle in this province, and we are committed to pave the way for the citizens of Herat province, and the people have also demonstrated their readiness to participate in the elections.
On the other hand, civil society activist, Sayed Wase Sayedi emphasized that the security challenge lie not only in Herat province, but in many other provinces of the country. However, in Herat no one can move around without the official authorization from security officials on the elections day.