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Afghan Youth Debates: Balkh Vote "Valid" Despite Fraud

The votes cast in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province will still count as valid despite numerous allegations of fraud on election day, an IWPR-organised debate has heard.

“Elections are inevitably accompanied by violations and offences,” Ezatollah Arman, head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Balkh said in response to questions about the scale of electoral fraud.

Addressing the audience at the April 10 discussion at Balkh University, Arman said the IEC had tried to increase the number of observers to prevent fraud, but admitted, “The majority of the observers did not know their job well. They acted more like spectators than observers.”

Arman blamed the shortage of ballot papers in the provincial capital Mazar-e Sharif on some of the presidential and provincial council candidates.

“Candidates brought people from areas where there were no polling stations, or areas where the candidates were not sure that the voting would be transparent, in to the centre,” he said. “The crowds of voters caused a shortage of ballot papers. Unlike the centre, there were sufficient numbers of blank ballot papers in rural areas.”

While arguing that a shortage of ballot papers did not constitute corruption, because they had been distributed based on accurate assessments, he acknowledged there had been some instances of fraud.

“So far, 17 cases of fraud have been registered at the IEC and 45 cases have been registered at the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) in Balkh province,” he said.

Malalai Roshandel Osmani, a civil society activist and the representative of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) in Mazar-e Sharif, said that although she was happy about the high female turnout, this too had not been without its problems.

“A number of women were instructed by their male family members to vote for their preferred candidates,” she said. “Some of the others did not know who to vote for at all. This means that most of them voted blindly. However, there were also some women who made informed decisions.”

Ubaidollah, a journalism student, said most people in remote areas of Afghanistan failed to use their votes, and asked whether this would affect the election’s legitimacy.

Arman answered that although mass participation was an important principle in democratic elections, Afghanistan was a country with its own unique circumstances. Bearing that in mind, he argued that the turnout had been high enough to count as valid.

“I accept it as a defect that a number of people were unable to participate in the elections and were not provided with an opportunity to vote, but perhaps the government and security forces did not have the resources to prepare the ground for voting in those areas,” he said.

Sakhi Dad Mahdiyar is a student at Balkh university and an IWPR trainee.

This report was produced as part of Open Minds: Speaking Up, Reaching Out – Promoting University and Youth Participation in Afghan Elections, an IWPR initiative funded by the US embassy in Kabul.

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