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Fraud Claims Question Poll Credibility

Election commission received over 400 complaints so far, with more than 40 possibly major enough to affect outcome.
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi
Afghans are complaining that the last week’s elections were marred by serious fraud, in contrast to the international community’s assessment that voting was fair.



United States president Barack Obama hailed the presidential an provincial council vote on August 20 as “a success”, US special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke professed himself “pleased” with the poll and the United Nations special envoy Kai Eide called it “a good day for Afghanistan”.



But to those a bit closer to the process, the elections were characterised by widespread fraud, intimidation and violence, to the point that many are seriously questioning the legitimacy and credibility of the results.



The results of the ballot will not be known for some time. While the Independent Election Commission, IEC, expects to announce the preliminary outcome as early as August 25, the definitive tally will not be released until the hundreds of complaints filed with the Electoral Complaints Commission, ECC, have been investigated and adjudicated.



The deadline for final results is September 17, but Afghan government and international officials are already warning that it may not be possible to meet it.



Nobody expected a perfect election, given Afghanistan’s ongoing war, ethnic divides and rampaging corruption. But even by the relatively modest standards set by the international community, the presidential poll appears to have been flawed, perhaps fatally.



ECC Chairman Grant Kippen told the media that his commission had received over 400 complaints to date, more than 40 of which may be major enough to affect the results of the elections.



Fahim Hakim, a member of the ECC, insisted that the violations would be taken seriously, “We want to assure the candidates that if there is a complaint we will investigate it.”



While no official vote counts have yet been released, media reports indicate that the incumbent, President Hamed Karzai, could have a possible landslide, perhaps as high as 72 per cent of the vote.



Dr Abdullah Abdullah, his former foreign minister, is in second place, with just over 23 per cent, while maverick reformer Ramazan Bashar Dost is running third. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the brilliant and mercurial former finance minister, is a distant fourth.



If no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote, then a runoff between the top two candidates will be held, most likely in early October.



Alleged violations fell into several categories, from technical glitches to direct attempts to skew results.



According to reports, some polling centres opened late, or not at all; in others there was a shortage of ballot papers; hole punchers, which were used to mark voter registration cards to prevent multiple voting, were not working, requiring some election workers to resort to using scissors; indelible ink, designed to prevent any individual voter from casting more than one ballot, was easily washed off in some cases.



Much more serious were incidents of alleged voter intimidation, ballot-box stuffing, and men casting votes on behalf of women.



Nader Nadery, head of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, FEFA, the main election monitoring agency, with more than 7,000 observers throughout the country, told a press conference August 22 that he had proof of multiple irregularities.



“In Ghor, Laghman, Nooristan, Bamyan, and Ghazni voter registration cards have been distributed to persons under the age of 18,” he said. “Men in Laghman, Paktia, Paktika, Ghor and Balkh were casting votes instead of women.”



In many parts of Afghanistan, women are not allowed out without their husbands’ permission. Men have been reportedly allowed to show up with several voting cards for women in their households and cast multiple ballots.



Moreover, the fact that women are not photographed – due to cultural sensitivities – combined with the lack of a census or accurate birth records means that some of the women registered may not even exist.



All of the leading candidates, including Karzai, are complaining of fraud.



Dost demanded that the polling be halted early on election day when he was able to wash the ink off his finger.



“This ink is not indelible,” he said. “I asked Karzai and the American ambassador to stop the elections.”



Dost has made an official complaint to the ECC on the matter.



But the fuss over the ink, while widespread, distracts attention from the more serious alleged violations, which could have a far greater impact on the elections.



Other candidates are complaining of widespread and organised fraud, which includes stealing of ballot-boxes, ballot-box stuffing and direct voter intimidation.



Saleh Mohammad Registani, one of Abdullah’s chief campaign officials, announced confidently that his candidate would have won had there not been vote-rigging, “We have delivered around 40 complaints to the ECC. We hope they investigate.”



According to Registani, Abdullah’s team had made three suggestions to the ECC: first, quarantine the boxes in districts where fraud has been alleged; second, national and international observers should go to those areas and investigate; and third, if fraud is proven, the perpetrators should be prosecuted under the law.



“We will never accept this fraud, unless a detailed investigation is launched,” said Registani.



However, he stopped short of threatening violence, something that has worried some Afghan and international officials in recent weeks.



“Our reaction will be within the framework of the law,” he said.



Ghani has also filed close to 40 complaints with the ECC. “The numbers being given are not commensurate with the numbers of votes cast,” he told the media. “If this issue is not investigated by an impartial body, the legitimacy of the elections will be called into question.”



Mirwais Yasini, one the lesser presidential contenders, also said that he was sure that he would have won had there not been fraud.



Yasini received more attention from the international community than he did from the voters, meeting with several ambassadors and high-ranking international diplomats. But it did not seem to improve his standing among the voters.



Yasini claims that thousands of his votes were taken from ballot boxes in Kandahar and destroyed, then replaced with votes for another candidate.



“I have the support of the people of Afghanistan” he told reporters. “If there had not been fraud I would have been the winner.”



No one wants to point the finger, but most allegations revolve around the Karzai campaign team. Although Karzai himself is complaining of fraud too.



“We also have complaints,” said Wahid Omar, spokesperson for the Karzai team. “We have sent them to the ECC.”



Nonetheless, Karzai seems confident of victory.



“We are waiting for the announcement of the results by the IEC,” said Omar. “Whatever happens, provided that the responsible institutions confirm the transparency of the results, we will congratulate the wining candidate.”



Regardless of who ultimately wins, the next president may have some trouble convincing the electorate of his mandate.



“If the election is not transparent, the government that emerges from it will have no legitimacy,” said political analyst Fazel Rahman Orya. “We can talk about fraud in the election if, for example, 20 per cent of the votes have some problem.



“But I have followed this election very closely, and there is not even one percent transparency. What fraud can we talk about if the whole thing is a fraud?”



Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter.