Afghanistan’s first presidential election to use biometric voter verification is now underway, with election officials expressing great confidence in the legitimacy of the process even as voter turnout appears to be lower than ever.
The country had seen fingerprint scanning deployed in parliamentary elections in 2018, though that exercise proved to be something of a fiasco due to scanning devices being lost or stolen, and – as election officials explain today – inadequate training. Measures have been taken to ensure that this time around, biometric identification is performed for every eligible voter.
In any case, other problems have surfaced, most notably threats from the Taliban to physically disrupt the electoral process. In the first round of polling, government officials reported 68 attacks from the Taliban across the country; the Afghanistan Analysts Network put that number at 400. Voter turnout was at an all-time low, meanwhile, with a preliminary account suggesting that if the current trend holds throughout the entire election process, turnout will be under 25 percent – the lowest since the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001.
Intimidation may be part of reason for the low turnout. But the biometric voter verification system itself may be another factor, with previous reports suggesting that miscommunication about the system has provoked concern among women across the country about immodesty and being photographed by election officials. There were also reports of faulty biometric equipment, with supplier Dermalog having flown in engineers from Germany to help resolve those issues.
An Al Jazeera report suggests that “complaints” about the biometric system, together with Taliban attacks, “marred” the voting process, though it doesn’t go into detail about the nature of those complaints. Government officials, meanwhile, are already celebrating the election as a success.
September 30, 2019 – by Alex Perala