The UN Electoral Support Project (UNESP) provides direct support to Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) to conduct the next electoral cycles in Afghanistan from October 2017 to December 2019, including the long-due Parliamentary Elections (Wolesi Jirga) and District Council Elections on 20 October 2018.
The project follows previous UN projects in support of the Afghan electoral process, most notably the Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow (ELECT) projects, from 2006-2011 (ELECT I) and 2012-2015 (ELECT II), and the UNDP Project Initiation Plan July 2015 – October 2017.
In comparison to earlier electoral assistance projects, UNESP has a much smaller footprint, both technically and financially: a small team of international advisors support the work of Afghanistan’s electoral management bodies. Currently, UNESP is implemented by twenty-one international advisors and specialists. Eighteen national staff support the team. UNESP will be expanded with eight international advisor and specialists, 17 UN Volunteers, and eight national staff members.
Although most of the operational electoral budget is still covered by the international donor community, the Government of Afghanistan now takes part in financial commitment to both electoral institutions and the implementation of elections by covering staff salaries and operational expenses.
What we have accomplished so far? (as of July 2018)
· Voter Registration: With UNESP assistance, the IEC successfully launched the Voter Registration (VR) process across the country on 14 April, with the VR period extended well into July 2018. The Project assisted the IEC VR endeavour with a full procurement and logistics cycle, and a targeted outreach campaign, planned, designed and implemented with UNESP support. Initial reports from the IEC indicate that nearly nine million Afghans, of which one third are women, have registered to vote across the country. The Voter Registry and the PC-Based Voter Lists will be produced in August 2018, with ICT advisory and technical assistance provided by the Project.
· Candidate Nomination: The Candidate Nomination (CN) process for the Wolesi Jirga (WJ) and the District Council (DC) Elections took place in all provinces of Afghanistan, with the exception of Ghazni where political protests blocked electoral activities. Some 10,000 Afghans requested WJ or DC CN forms, of which more than 8,600 prospective candidates submitted their candidate registration papers for both types of elections. The Preliminary Lists of WJ Candidates publicized by the IEC presented 2,494 candidates, with 402 (16%) of them women, after 141 applicants were disqualified. Initial DC CN figures report 5,729 male and 422 female DC candidates, or 6,151 DC candidates country-wide.
· Historical Wolesi Jirga Overview: In comparison to previous elections (2005 and 2010 Wolesi Jirga elections), the 2018 WJ electoral trend shows higher female presence among candidates (+0.26% from 2010 and +3.9% from 2005). Although the total number of candidates at this time seems to have dropped from 2,546 to 2,454 (-92), one should factor in the absence of Ghazni candidates in 2018, who numbered 83 persons in 2010 and 131 persons in 2005. If a similar trend is noted in the proposed CN period for Ghazni, the 2018 Elections may show an increase in total candidates as well.
· Institutional Development and Regulatory Framework: UNESP provides expert assistance to IEC and ECC with institutional structural development and the creation of an institutional regulatory framework, supported by (a) essential Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with key governmental and non-governmental institutions, organizations and agencies; and (b) development of regulations and procedures defining the legal environment of the 20 October elections. The Project provides special advisory and ICT support to the ECC to increase its capacity for adjudicating challenges and objections addressed by the public in each phase of the electoral process.
· Electoral Stakeholder Engagement: Support is provided in the IEC and ECC’s strategic engagement of electoral stakeholders, marked with a number of major outreach activities, most notably the national and provincial Election Forums, which contribute to building partnerships with national and international electoral stakeholders through public consultations and media events. Since the beginning of the Project, 53 such events have been organized country-wide.
· Electoral Outreach: UNESP places special focus on electoral outreach, to increase public awareness of IEC and ECC’s roles and responsibilities, and of electoral phases and cycles, with special focus on engaging women as voters and candidates.
· Operational Assistance: Operational, technical, advisory and financial assistance with planning, design, procurement, and delivery of materials necessary to successfully implement the next electoral cycle, including PC Assessment, VR and CN process, and preparations for polling, counting and results-management, aiming to complete this electoral cycle by January 2019.
- The IEC regulations make special provisions for women, facilitating their engagement as voters and particularly as candidates, easing the regulations for Candidate Nomination.
- By July 2018, according to initial reports from the IEC, 3 million women registered to vote, or more than one third of the total registered voters. Three provinces of Afghanistan mark more female than male registrants.
- With 402 women on the Preliminary WJ Candidate Lists, women represent 16 percent of the total candidates. In the initial IEC DC CN reports, 422 women (or 7%) have registered their candidacy.
- Two of the seven IEC Commissioners appointed to oversee the conduct of the 2018 elections are women.