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The Killid Group

Will elections reward the brave voters?

Written by Killid Reporters
Sunday, 26 September 2010 10:31

Will elections reward the brave voters?


The results of the polling on September 18 will not be known for some time to come, but what was made resoundingly clear on that day was the courage and determination of the Afghan voter. Despite the insecurity, the threats from the insurgents and the difficulty of voting in many areas, Afghans turned out to cast their vote.

The odds that voters had to overcome were not inconsiderable. Not just threats by insurgents, but the frustration and disillusionment that most Afghans have gone through regarding their elected representatives; the presence of unqualified candidates; the possibility of electoral fraud and other negative factors were ample reasons for a lower voter turnout. In the end however Afghan voters defeated all the predictions and came out in fairly large numbers given the circumstances.

Currently the Independent Afghan Election Commission(IEC) is indicating a voter turnout of around 40% based on the percentage of ballots used in polling centres from which it has received the results. While the absence of confirmed statistics on the number of voters makes it difficult to arrive at a correct estimate of the turnout, the IEC has said that around 4 million people cast their votes.

One of the 4 million enthusiastic voters was Haji Ghulam Hussein, a 65-year old man. "I am very happy to vote for my favorite candidate in such a free and democratic atmosphere", he said, expressing hope that the new members of parliament would be honest, committed and devoted to their people.

However while Afghans may have voted with enthusiasm, their reasons for voting a particular candidate were not always well-founded. Most of those who voted appeared to have voted not on the basis of the merit, qualifications or proficiency of the candidate but because of close ties with the candidates, many of whom had become candidates due to tribal links, nepotism, networks, political pressure or money.

Shah Wali, who was an observer for one of the candidates, said he had voted for one friend this time and would like to vote for another next time. His views are not uncommon amongst voters. Masouma Abdullahi, whose great uncle is a candidate said, "If one of our relatives was not contesting in the elections to the Wolesi Jirga election, we would never have voted."  "Taking part in the election with no awareness of the need to make a good choice will be bad for democracy", said Dr. Sardar Rahimi, lecturer in the Khateb University.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many voters do not have enough information about the voting process. The large number of candidates - there were over 600 in Kabul constituency for example - made it difficult for many voters to cast their vote.

Technical problems

The voting process also suffered from technical problems. The punching machines in many polling stations did not work. In Marefat High school in district 13 of Kabul for example, the efficiency of the punching machines depended on how the staff was able to use them.  In the same district, in another polling centre in the Sanaee Mosque, officials did not seem to know how to tear the ballot paper from the book, resulting in partially torn papers.

But not all the problems were due to the ignorance of the IEC staff. The indelible ink was not of uniform quality and could be removed by many voters, allowing people to vote several times. In the Zarghona High School in Kabul several people attempting to do so using fake voter cards were caught. The ease with which the ink was wiped off in many places belied the claims of the IEC Chief Fazl Ahmed Manawi, who said the ink had the highest concentration of silver nitrate possible (25%) and that this could not be removed.

In some areas it was the lack of sufficient electoral materials that prevented genuine voters from casting their vote. In Ghazni province for instance, Mohammad Yonus Naeemi, of Shaki Nowke village in Qarabagh district, spent many hours waiting to receive the election materials which finally did not arrive.

"The people are concerned that they lost their chance to make a decision about their future and it was because of the lack of election material", he said. Officials claimed that it was insecurity which had prevented the proper dispatch of electoral materials, but one of the election observers, Haji Abdul Qafour Rahmani, said the ballot boxes were supposed to be brought to the district and its suburb by air by the international forces, but despite several postponements, eventually did not reach.

Fraud under Media Scrutiny

Despite many obstacles the media played an important role.

"Undoubtedly if Afghan free and open media were not there, it would pave the way more fraud than is taking place now and no one would be informed about it", Mohammad Sarwar, a Kabul resident who was monitoring the Killid broadcasts on polling day, said.

"The Afghan open and free media were playing a great role in informing the people about the deficiencies in the process",  Mohammad Qasem Erfani, an Afghan lecturer in Khatam-ul-Nabeen said. Erfani feels the Afghan media is much freer than media in many countries in the neighbourhood.

The lack of impartiality of electoral staff also played a role in the fraud. In the  Imam Reza Mosque polling centre for example, polling was suspended for several hours after a dispute between the candidate observers and the electoral staff. A Killid reporter in Salang valley saw election staff and officials marking ballot papers themselves or persuading illiterate voters to cast their vote for a particular candidate. Similar problems were reported from Paghman district. Many voters were also below the age of 18 years.

Security measures worked

Though insecurity led to the closure of many polling stations, the turnout of Afghan voters was relatively large. According to the Ministry of Interior, around 14 people were killed on polling day including 11 civilians and 3 police officers. Approximately 445 incidents of poll-related violence were recorded on September 18, lower than the 479 incidents in the August 20 presidential election. This, despite the fact that insecurity has increased in the past one year.

"The Afghan security organizations' role in ensuring security and a peaceful atmosphere in polling stations is commendable",   Mohammad Safar Heidari, a resident of Helmand, said.

Mostafa Rasouli, a journalist and an election observer, believes that security was satisfactory but wonders why it is not possible to have such good security on other days.

Final Outcome

According to the IEC official declaration, the results of the elections will take several weeks to process.

Nader Naderi, head of FEFA(Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan) , the independent Afghan election observer group, said there had been widespread fraud in the elections. He requested the Afghan government and IEC to act impartially on the complaints and guarantee the transparency of the election.

Much of the credibility of the electoral process lies in the days ahead when the counting, tallying, complaint procedure, investigation and certification of results will take place, testing the fairness as well as proficiency of the electoral institutions. The IEC's role in ensuring sanctity of the ballot boxes is considered as one of the most important procedures in the election process, said Mir Ahmad Seerat, a lecturer in Kabul University. He believes that the behaviour of the ECC(Electoral Complaints Commisison) is a critical part of the electoral process in terms of addressing the complaints and ensuring justice.

Afghans are concerned about the fact that the ECC had double standards in the previous elections in 2009. "We can trust the ECC only when the process of considering and addressing the complaints is free from nepotism and the impact of powerful people", said Mohammed Hassan Ahmedi, a student of the political science in one of the private universities. The question that remains therefore is whether the ECC will be able to stand up to the powerful men trying to influence the elections. The answer to this question will be delivered only in time.

Notwithstanding the shortcomings in the elections many Afghans believe that the turnout of the voters and the eagerness of Afghans to take part in the democratic process need to be acknowledged.

"Basically Afghans' eagerness and interest to take part in democratic processes including elections despite many threats and horrors must be appreciated and admired", said Khoshal Asefi Afghan, a journalist in Ariana TV and Radio Network.  The courage of the Afghan voter was not only praised locally, but also internationally.

Guido Westerwelle, the foreign minister of Germany said "those Afghans who stood for election despite the tense situation, as well as those who went to the polling stations, showed they had the courage to stand up for democracy. " The UN Secretary General's Special Representative Staffan De Mistura said that while there had been widespread irregularities, there had been no evidence of widespread fraud.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon issued a statement through his spokesperson commending the women and men of Afghanistan for their courage and determination in exercising their democratic right to vote during the parliamentary elections.

He noted that the election took place amid significant security challenges and commended the efforts of the Afghan National Security Forces to protect the people of Afghanistan. Like him, many other foreign officials praised the bravery of Afghans on Election Day.  The shortcomings in the electoral process should not eclipse this achievement.

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