On April 5, the Afghan people will vote in the country’s third presidential elections in history. In addition to the important questions of who is likely to win the race and what various outcomes will mean for the future of the county, these elections represent something else—another attempt at organizing free and fair elections in a weak, war-torn state. Difficulties abound, but based on the experience with the 2004 and 2009 presidential elections in Afghanistan, the challenges that the country has to face for these elections to succeed lie in three intimately intertwined and basic issues: voting management, country-wide participation and the perception of elections. When the international community and the post-Taliban interim Afghan government first took up the task of holding general elections in Afghanistan in 2004-2005, one major problem was apparent, namely that in this (post-)conflict state, which has no effective civil registry, the task of organizing and monitoring voting would be extremely difficult.
Somehow the challenge of not knowing how many eligible voters there were per district or town, let alone being able to verify the identity of voters (due to a poor ID card/passport system), had to be circumvented. It was chosen to apply ad hoc solutions such as voter registration cards and indelible ink (the latter to mark fingertips of voters in order to prevent multiple voting).
The application of these methods in Afghanistan so far is not without controversy. The presidential elections of 2009 were marred by much disarray about fraud, part of which was linked to the use of ink and voter registration cards. The election process received a legitimacy blow with the news and evidence that the supposedly indelible ink could be removed relatively easily and that many voter registration cards ended up at black markets. The lack of civil registry and ID/passports continues to be a problem in Afghanistan. Despite all of the reconstructions efforts and development money spent since 2001, Afghanistan remains among the less developed countries that lack proper statistics. No accurate population count has taken place, and millions of Afghans still do not have identification documents. So indelible ink and voter cards will be used again in these presidential elections. There are allegations that millions of registration cards were circulating at black markets even before this year’s campaigning began.