Heratis in No Mood for Second Vote

Locals so angry and disappointed by electoral fraud, many say they will not vote if ballot goes to second round.

Heratis in No Mood for Second Vote

Locals so angry and disappointed by electoral fraud, many say they will not vote if ballot goes to second round.

Nobody values my vote,” said Shahab Aziz, 24, a shopkeeper in the Ghoreyan district of Herat province. “I cast my ballot in August, but I will certainly not do it again.”



Six weeks after Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential elections, there is still little clarity about winners, results, or the possibility of a second round.



President Hamed Karzai is ahead, with close to 55 per cent of the vote, but allegations of massive fraud may yet rob him of a first-round win. If he fails to clear the 50 per cent-plus-one hurdle, he will face a runoff with his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who currently has 28 per cent of the vote.



But voters like Aziz will likely refuse to participate in any repeat election; most say they were too let down by the previous poll.



“I regret having voted,” Aziz said. “I thought that these elections would be far more transparent than the presidential elections in 2004, but it turns out the level of fraud might be even higher.”



Farid Sorosh lives in a part of Herat province where the security situation is precarious and the nearest polling station is 40 kilometres away. Still, he made the trip on August 20.



He says he won’t do it again.



“I already had some concerns about fraud in the first round,” he said. “It was a bad sign that there were no international observers in many places.”



Just a few hundred international observers were scattered throughout the country, with more than 27,000 polling stations to monitor. Due to security concerns, many monitors were restricted in their movements, unable to view more than a tiny fraction of the vote.



The absence of observers, as well as the insecurity that has plagued much of the country, resulted in numerous reports of irregularities ranging from voter intimidation to outright ballot-box stuffing. In all, over 2,500 complaints were received, close to 700 of which were judged to be serious enough to challenge the results of the vote.



Unable to thoroughly investigate all allegations, the Electoral Complaints Commission, ECC, is now wading through a sample of about 10 per cent of “suspicious” ballot boxes.



But a second round is far from assured. While many in the Afghan and international media have said that a Karzai government elected under the current circumstances will lack legitimacy, others have contended just as vociferously that a second round will bring the same problems as the first, while changing nothing. At the end of the process, Karzai will be installed as president for the next five years.



“If there is a second round it will be a highly problematic affair,” said Nazir Ahmad Reha, a political expert in Herat. “Many people will refuse to participate; there will be economic problems and security issues. Therefore I really hope a second round will not be necessary.”



Even some of those who served as election observers say they would not participate in a second round.



“The first round of elections didn’t live up to expectations at all,” said election observer Hamed Mehri. “Foreign observers should have been present during the election process, and also the representatives of political parties. The people from the Independent Election Commission should have worked justly and transparently, but they didn’t. So if there is a second round I will not participate.”



Political analyst Ershad Khatibi agrees that a second round is not ideal, but insists that the first vote was too flawed to stand. A low voter turnout – estimated at no more than 30 per cent – could cast the whole election into doubt, he said.



“This election has violated the wishes and hopes of the Afghan people,” he said. “The Independent Election Commission (IEC) and other authorities have not fulfilled their responsibilities.



“Of course (if there is a second round) there will be fraud again. Moreover, insurgents will try to instil more fear in people so they will not go to vote. However, I believe there should be a second round. If it will be decided in the first round only, it will have a very negative impact.”



But election officials say it is much too early to speculate about a runoff. “Nobody has yet announced there will be a second round,” said Zia Ahmad Zia, IEC director in Herat. “But if it does happen, we are 100 per cent ready to make sure there is no fraud in Herat city.”



Meanwhile, the voters in Herat seem to have lost their faith in the process. Although some say they would vote again in a second round, many more insist they would not.



“I participated in the first round, because I want a better future for my country, but now I am very disappointed,” said Mohammad Naderi, a shopkeeper. “I will not vote in the second round, because there will just be double the trouble in the first. Moreover, poor people like me can’t leave their work several times for elections.”



Mohammad Shafe Ferozi is an IWPR trainee in Herat.

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