The continuous conflict in Afghanistan resulted in dire consequences for its citizens, including displacement and physical disabilities. Nevertheless, democratic rights were not denied to them. They are the vulnerable sector of Afghanistan that is in need of special attention, particularly in exercising their rights as voters.
The country’s National Internally Displaced People (IDP) Policy recognizes their right to elect and be elected, being citizens of Afghanistan. They may exercise their right either in their places of origin or their places of displacement (where they are currently living). IEC ensures their registration and issuance without requiring them to return to their places of origin unless they wish to do so. Programs will also be developed to encourage IDPs to run for office.
The democratic rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs) are likewise recognized by the state. It has been provided by the IEC that voters with disabilities are to be aided by a person of their choice or of the polling station chairperson’s choice to assist them in casting their ballots. To ensure transparency, people of the polling station chairperson’s choice are not permitted to assist more than one person.
However, attention to their needs still remains limited. Concerned people and organizations call on to the IEC to provide better access for voting for voters with disabilities, which includes additional polling stations that would be more accessible for them. People on wheelchair and with crutches would not be able to climb stairs. Ballots printed in Braille had also been suggested for the blind to ensure transparency instead of having them assisted by an election officer in casting their ballots. The IEC, however, favored the escort system rather than Braille ballots because only a few only can read Braille.
PWDs are also at risk of being excluded from the political process because of their lack of access to information, legitimate avenues for complaints and ways to connect with political candidates. As an answer to this need, Internews’ Afghanistan Capacity for Media and Elections (ACME), in partnership with the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, sponsored a training course on citizen journalism at Anaar multimedia center. They were able to provide computer and internet access to four locations in Afghanistan. Typing, internet usage, blogging and social media were among the lessons taught to PWDs at the center, which were given for free. Through this, the PWDs were able to express their views, particularly about elections, and also allowed them to connect with different people. This became an avenue for them to participate actively in the electoral processes and discussions.
Access to polling has also been provided by the IEC to those with special needs such as members of the Afghan National Army, police, internally displaced persons, prisoners (who have not been deprived of their civil and political rights by a court of law) or hospitalized persons.
Polling stations were added to existing polling centers specifically for them. The nomadic tribal groups, who move from place to place, are also permitted to cast their ballots in any province. Mobile voting teams have been assembled to answer the needs of people confined in hospitals or those imprisoned who are qualified voters.
References International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). (2014). Elections in Afghanistan: June 2014 Presidential Runoff Election Frequently Asked Questions. Washington DC: IFES. National Democratic Institute (NDI). (2011). The 2010 Wolesi Jirga Elections in Afghanistan. Washington DC: NDI. Orya, W. (2014, January 4). Elections 2014: Ramps and Braille please! Retrieved from Afghanistan Today: http://www.afghanistan-today.org/en/articles/59/657/ Training Courses Increased Access to the Electoral Process for Afghans with Disabilities. (2014, May 29). Retrieved from Internews: http://www.internews.org/training-courses-increased-access-electoral-process-afghans-disabilities With Special Needs. (n.d.). Retrieved from Independent Commission of Afghanistan: http://www.iec.org.af/2012-05-31-16-45-49/info-voter/special-needs-voting National Internally Displaced Persons Policy 2013