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Afghan Youth Debates: Disagreement Over Election Fraud

By Mohammad Isa Aria

Panellists at an IWPR debate in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz have clashed over the scale of electoral fraud during last month’s polls.

Mahmud Sadri, a lecturer at Kunduz University, said many people believed the April 5 election had been hijacked by "domestic and foreign institutions", whereas Hamidullah Baluch, regional spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC), defended its success.

Addressing students at an event held on May 21, Sadri insisted that the outcome of the first-round presidential ballot – held the same day as provincial elections – had been engineered, and that the wishes of the electorate were being ignored by a corrupt establishment.

He said this interference jeopardised the entire voting process and would create mistrust among voters considering whether to participate in the June 14 run-off.

"Unfortunately the first-round election results were predetermined, but we hope the second round will not be engineered," Sadri told undergraduates. “Lack of interest due to the election result…. will reduce participation [in the second round]."

Baluch was quick to condemn Sadri's remarks as both inaccurate and irresponsible. He acknowledged that problems had occurred in the first round but insisted steps had been taken to address them.

He stressed that people across the country had shown great faith in the electoral process – some seven million of them voted – and he urged them to continue to do so.

"If the commissions [the IEC and the Independent Election Complaints Commission] had committed organised fraud, then one of the candidates would have definitely won in the first round," he said. "Going to a second round indicates that they functioned transparently.

"The people of Afghanistan, civil society institutions, the media and thousands of domestic and foreign observers witnessed the election and the count. We are not concerned about the performance of the commissions; we are more concerned about security. But we are confident that our forces will deliver reliable security for the second round just as they did for the first."

Later in the debate, Abdullah Rasuli, chairman of the civil society network in Kunduz province, sought to reassure students that the second round would be better organised than the first.

He too maintained that the April 5 poll had been a resounding success, and that Afghans had every right to take heart from the achievement.

"All the institutions worked well and God willing, there will be fewer problems in the second round," he told the debate. "The success was due to civil society institutions which highlighted potential problems and exerted pressure on the electoral commissions to address them. Despite the problems, the IEC's performance was still admirable."

Mohammad Isa Aria is a student at Kunduz 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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