KABUL -- The Independent Election Commission's efforts to ensure a transparent and smooth presidential election last month are receiving plaudits from observers, including civil rights activists and ordinary citizens.
The Afghan presidential election took place September 28 throughout the country, with 2,598,445 voters casting their ballots.
"Efforts put in place day and night by the Independent Election Commission helped the election to occur in a better and more transparent manner," said Habibullah Shinwari, a member of the Election and Transparency Watch Organisation of Afghanistan.
"No voting site faced a shortage of materials," said Shinwari, highlighting factors that helped reduce vote-rigging in the election.
"There was good discipline this time, and there was no shortage of election workers. Eighty percent of voting sites opened on time, new technology was used and the biometric devices worked perfectly," he said. "The election personnel had training, and the security forces were able to ensure security."
"Commissioners, secretariat staff and other commission personnel worked until late, around 10pm to 11pm," Shinwari said.
"Their work is definitely commendable."
'Votes for democracy'
Roshan Seerat, director of the Independent Human Rights Commission's learning centre for women that helped observe the election, also praised the handling of the event.
"Despite security problems and threats, the Afghan people including women said 'no' to these threats and cast their votes for democracy, as elections are a principle of democracy," Seerat said.
"As the biometric system worked and Afghans cast their votes, this election was better than the previous ones in the view of civilians and observers," he added.
The recent presidential election was an improvement over the parliamentary elections in October 2018, said Muhammad Naeem Asghari, programme manager for the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan.
"The commissioners acted independently, and unlike the previous commissioners, they followed their calendar and there were better training programmes for the commission workers," Asghari said. "As the turnout was lower, the workers from the commission were able to better address issues and paid attention to the advice of the election watchdogs."
Zabihullah Sadaat, a deputy spokesperson for the Independent Election Commission, said the approaches that the commission took to hold a transparent election paid off.
"We properly used biometric devices and improved the software to address all the questions people would have," he said.
"We attentively worked on recruiting and training workers so that we could solve the problems we had in the parliamentary elections, and we made sure that voters didn't encounter any problems," he added.
"That helped us end up with a good election and also win public confidence," Sadaat said.
Civil society activists and Afghan citizens praised the determination of the Independent Election commissioners and their pledge to uphold transparency in the election process.
"Votes vetted only by biometric devices will be counted, and this will help increase the level of transparency," said Naeem Nazari, a resident of Kabul city, referring to the commission's decision to count only votes from individuals verified by the system.
"Punishment and rewards -- especially the punishment of previous election officials -- also had an impact on the transparency of this election," he said.
On September 2, a primary court sentenced the former chief of the election commission and six former election commissioners -- as well as the former chief and two former members of the Electoral Complaint Commission -- to five years in jail.
Members of these commissions were fired by President Ashraf Ghani in February after facing accusations of fraud in the 2018 parliamentary election and as the government sought to reform these commissions.
"Some of the previous election commissioners tainted the process as they became involved in corruption," said Hamasa Payam, who works with a non-governmental organisation in Kabul.
"The government made the right decision in prosecuting and imprisoning those former commissioners as it will be a lesson for others who play with the people's fate and the future of democracy," he added.
"The current election commissioners so far have acted fairly and independently, and we're hopeful that they can preserve their impartiality and ethics until the election process ends," said Ezatullah Afghanmal, a student at Kardan University in Kabul.
"If these commissioners are unable to retain their impartiality and ethics and become involved in corruption, they should know that one day they will be prosecuted and imprisoned just like the former commissioners," he added.