Open Season on Winning Candidates

Candidates who look like they have won a place in parliament say they are being targeted by rivals who want their seats.

Open Season on Winning Candidates

Candidates who look like they have won a place in parliament say they are being targeted by rivals who want their seats.

When Herat doctor Mohammad Saleh Saljoqi came in fourth on the list of candidates for parliament, he breathed a sigh of relief and waited for the election results to be finalised. With 17 seats allocated to his province, he had nothing to worry about - that is, until a bomb blast ripped through his consulting room on October 10, injuring 13 patients.


Saljoqi was unhurt, but barely an hour later he found more explosives in a rubbish bin near his house.


“I do not have any enemies,” said the 42-year-old. “But I think that my election victory was just not acceptable to some people.”


Saljoqi is now being protected by his relatives, he said, since he is reluctant to trust government security forces. But he is worried about other successful candidates.


Since the September 18 parliamentary elections, candidates whose placing on the ballot list suggests they will make it into parliament, under a system where each province counts as a constituency with a set number of allocated seats, have been growing increasingly uneasy about their safety.


Election officials have said they expect to publish a final list of those elected to the legislature by the end of this month.


At issue is Chapter 8, Article 37 of the election law which states that if a successful candidate dies or is disqualified prior to the first session of parliament, the seat goes to the person who gained the next highest total number of votes.


Some would-be parliamentarians say this is tantamount to declaring open season on them.


Since September 18, one top-scoring candidate has been murdered and several others have survived attempts on their lives. Others are enduring whispering campaigns intended to discredit and disqualify them, clearing the way for their rivals.


In the north, Mohammad Ashraf Ramazan was assassinated in Balkh, along with one of his bodyguards, setting off demonstrations and sparking accusations against the provincial governor, Atta Mohammad.


In Nangarhar, Toorpekai Alam narrowly escaped death when unidentified gunmen burst into her home. She was able to hide from them and escaped unhurt, but she is convinced that the attempt was related to her candidacy, although she appears to have failed to win a parliamentary seat.


In Farah, outspoken candidate Malalai Joya has been threatened several times, and says she is in fear for her life. Her stance against the warlords at the Constitutional Loya Jirga in December 2003 made her many enemies, and since she came in second in her home province of Farah, the threats have intensified, she said.


Malalai Shinwari, who came in first among Kabul’s female candidates, says that she faced threats and intimidation throughout her campaign, and that the situation has worsened since her apparent victory. She blames militia commanders who also appear to have won seats in parliament for instigating the violence.


“The presence of warlords in the parliament means that independent candidates will never feel safe,” she told IWPR.


Sultan Ahmad Baheen, spokesman for the Joint Electoral Management Body, JEMB, acknowledged that eight candidates have been killed since the beginning of the election process, and that the violence did not stop with the September 18 poll.


However, Baheen disputed the conclusion that their deaths were directly related to the elections or to their position as winning candidates. “These murders were connected with personal issues, personal feuds,” he said.


But with the election process nearing completion, security is becoming more of an issue, he added.


“We are getting close to the final phase of the vote counting, and security is becoming more important. The high level of security we had during the election process and the transferring of the ballot boxes must not decrease now, especially when we are announcing the final results,” he said.


Interior ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanekzai insists that the incidence of threats and violence has been negligible.


“This kind if thing happens all over the world,” he insisted. “If any of the candidates has a problem, then he or she can come to the interior ministry and we will provide security.” The whole country is on alert, he added, and the police are standing by ready to provide protection.


Candidates do not appear to be reassured. Some fear that the threats to their safety come from armed groups which enjoy support within the government.


“The people involved in the assassinations are those in power who want to find a place for their own people in parliament,” said Naseer Ahmad Latifi, who was unsuccessful in his bid for a seat from Kabul.


Shukria Barakzai, one of nine successful women candidates in Kabul, also voiced concern about security. The situation is so bad, she said, that candidates do not want their names announced in advance of the first session of parliament. Nevertheless, the JEMB has been posting the results as they are tabulated.


Even when outright violence is not employed, the lives of the apparent winners can be made miserable by unfounded allegations.


Electoral Complaints Commission officials say privately that they have been flooded with complaints against successful candidates, often citing links to armed groups or terrorists. All too often, said one, these accusations prove to be baseless, and to have been circulated by those a little further down in the poll result listings.


Abdul Kabir Ranjbar, who won a seat in Kabul, says he is afraid for his own safety, and warns that the campaign of violence against candidates is damaging the government’s credibility.


“If the government cannot protect candidates, it is a sign that it is weak and its enemies are strong,” he said. “If that’s the case, no candidate will ever feel safe.”


Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR reporter in Kabul.


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