Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

How Clean is the Election Slate?

Some believe election officials have turned a blind eye to laws intended to stop gunmen standing for parliament.
By Amanullah Nasrat

It's been a long process, but the Afghanistan’s election body has finally approved a list of 5,805 candidates to stand in parliamentary and provincial elections on September 18.


But just how perfect the screening of candidates has been is open to question.


Although the election law barred anyone known to hold stocks of arms or retain ties with armed groups from standing for election, only a handful of those accused of such violations have had their names struck off the list of candidates.


A total of 1,136 complaints were filed with the election complaints commission, against 556 candidates.


The panel had initially recommended disqualification for 233 individuals, most of whom were accused of possessing weapons or keeping links with paramilitary groups. But all of them appealed against the ruling, and apart from 17, all the names went back on the list.


One of the 17, Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, a leading figure who formerly led his own militia, voiced anger at the decision. “The people who fought for freedom and for the country are now known as warlords or criminals," he told local television .


Sayyaf, who was part of the mujahedin who fought against Soviet occupations in the Eighties, was also involved in the internecine fighting that followed the collapse of the communist regime in 1992. He has been accused of being a war criminal by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, AIHRC.


The five-member complaints commission, composed of three United Nations representatives and one each from Afghan Supreme Court and the AIHRC, explained its reluctance to disqualify more candidates by noting that so far, no one has been convicted or sentenced for war crimes or human rights violations committed during the decades of strife in the country.


In all, 267 names were deleted from candidate lists for the 249-seat parliament and the 34 provincial councils, the majority at the candidates’ own request.


"Some 250 candidates asked to be removed from the list, including 50 women,” said Bismillah Bismil, the chairman of the Joint Election Management Body, JEMB, which is overseeing arrangements for the ballot. “They asked to withdraw because of security fears over incidents that had taken place in the provinces."


According to news reports, five people who announced they were standing for parliament have been killed. Others reported being threatened, and the home of at least one female candidate was burnt down.


Of the 17 who had their names removed from the list of candidates, five were barred for failing to submit the correct nomination papers, one for still being on the government payroll, and the remaining 11 for arms possession or paramilitary links.


"We received reports from the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration commission that these 11 people are still linked to some armed groups or still had weapons, so we struck off their names," said Bismil.


Many observers, however, have serious doubts about the candidate vetting process and say that suspected war criminals and others who hold weapons have been allowed to stay on the ballot.


“The AIHRC wants people to be very careful while voting because most of the human rights violators have nominated themselves as candidates,” said Sima Samar, the head of the rights body. “We hope that people respond negatively [by not voting for them].”


Others said they were disappointed but unsurprised by the complaint commission’s decisions. Abu Alehrar Ramzpur, a Kabul University lecturer, said he had expected the outcome "because nothing has been done about accused candidates before, and nothing will be done about them in the future, either”.


He added, “We will witness the presence of a lot of criminals in the upcoming parliament.”


Ordinary people also expressed pessimism.


Kabul resident Wakil Khan said, “Those who are accused of war crimes have made a lot of money during the wars, so they can easily get seats in parliament with the help of their money.”


Abdul Jamil, also from Kabul, said he and his friends had never seen a list of candidates, nor had they any idea where such a list would be posted.


“Everybody knows that the Afghan government, America and gunmen have reached agreement with each other,” he said. “Half of the gunmen were set up in the Afghan cabinet and the other half will be set up in parliament.”


Amanullah Nasrat is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.