Swinging Between Hope and Despair: Kabul Citizens’ Voting Behaviour in the 2018 Wolesi Jirga Election

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Kabul Citizens Vote to Strengthen Democracy and Reform, Despite Lacking Trust in the Process: AREU Research Finds

KABUL, October 18 2018: In a study conducted through interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs), the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) found that many Kabul citizens plan to take part in the upcoming elections despite their general distrust of the electoral process and the Independent Election Commission (IEC), pessimism toward former MPs and political parties and the overall deteriorating security situation.

“Each phase of this election has so far been uneasy and people are not satisfied in most cases with the performance of their MPs and the IEC. Despite all this, we have witnessed a vibrant campaigning period and Afghans are taking part in the process to strengthen democracy,” said Dr Orzala Nemat, AREU Director. “While there is a decline in democracy in our region, Afghans continue to pay a high price for choosing who represents us she added.

The briefing paper, “Swinging Between Hope and Despair: Kabul Citizen’s Voting Behavior in the 2018 Wolesi Jirga Elections, investigates the factors that influence voting behavior of Kabul citizens in the upcoming Wolesi Jirga elections. It also looks at Kabul citizens’ assessments of the performance of the MPs and Wolesi Jirga and their expectations for the upcoming term of Wolesi Jirga, the performance of the IEC, their views on the role of political parties and how they obtain their information about the 2018 Wolesi Jirga elections.

According to the paper, people who have registered with the intention of voting have done so for at least one of the following main reasons: 1) voting to strengthen democracy, 2) voting to elect a representative with common social conditions, 3) voting to bring reform to the parliament. However, some people who have registered have done so to either avoid problems in government offices or because of their desire to work for the government.

The paper revealed that Kabul citizens had a lot more reasons why they did not want to register or vote. Lack of security was a major issue among the majority of respondents, given that registration centers came under attack during the process or registration. Additionally, given that the new process involved attaching stickers to Tazkiras, this was a major concern for people who travel to other provinces because the stickers make them a potential target for the Taliban or other insurgent groups that want to hinder the democratic process.

The study demonstrated that three primary social factors influence voting behavior. Firstly, ethnic identity shapes the decision of voters to most likely vote for candidates from the same ethnic group. If there are multiple candidates from their ethnic group, then they will consider other factors. For example, they look at the candidate’s level of education, religiosity, legal acumen and so forth. Political party affiliation is another social factor that affects voting behavior. Lastly, candidates who have a similar professional background to the voter appear more attractive.

The study also highlights people’s dissatisfaction with current parliamentarians due to unrealistic expectations of what parliamentarians were capable of delivering or disillusionment about the hollow promises of candidates. However, some of the participants in the study revealed satisfaction with the performance of a few parliamentarians who had expressed constituents’ concerns in their speeches, had acceptable legal knowledge or had constructed roads, schools and clinics.

The study participants question the independence of the IEC given that the President appoints the commissioners and they are expected to follow the President’s orders. Citizens also fear external intervention and interference in the electoral process, particularly as it already happened in the 2014 election.

The paper provides a set of recommendations to ensure a more transparent electoral process and to restore trust in democratic processes and institutions. These recommendations include increasing civic education, involving citizens in the observation of the elections and changing the process of appointment IEC commissioner with the help of the Civil Service Commission.

AREU is an independent research institute based in Kabul that was established in 2002 by the assistance of the international community in Afghanistan. AREU achieves its mission by engaging with policy makers, civil society, researchers and academics to promote their use of AREU’s research-based publications and its library, strengthening their research capacity and creating opportunities for analysis, reflection and debate.

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