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Poll Fraud Claims

Stories of ballot-rigging emerge at vote-counting centres across the country.
By Wahidullah Amani

Solitary voices complaining of ballot fraud have swollen into an angry chorus as the first unofficial results from Afghan parliamentary and council elections begin to emerge. Some of the alleged abuses have resulted in election staff being fired.   Peter Erben, executive director of the Joint Election Management Body, JEMB, suggests that many of the complaints appear to be coming from disappointed candidates. But some of the allegations appear to be backed up by evidence from election monitors.   Once the first provisional results from the September 18 elections are released on October 6, candidates and elections observers have five days to file challenges with the Election Complaints Commission, which then will investigate claims of wrongdoing.   Officials originally said that final election results would be known on October 22, but that date appears to be slipping, perhaps because of the volume of grievances being filed.   Erben, referring to the 249 parliamentary seats and the hundreds more up for grabs on the 34 provincial councils, told IWPR, "We have 5,763 candidates in this election - and 5,006 [of them] cannot win a seat. It’s natural that we will receive some groundless objections."   He would not say how many vote-counters had been fired following accusations of fraud but acknowledged that some JEMB staff had been dismissed in various parts of the country.   A common complaint is that many of those being paid 15 US dollars a day to count the ballots have strong family or political ties to candidates.   One woman standing for parliament, who asked not to be named, said, "The problem is at the polling centres, where villagers who are interrelated are working to count votes for the benefit of their family candidate."   She cited as an example the nephew of one candidate, a militia commander, who she said was abusing his position by "counting other candidates' votes towards his maternal uncle".   Ahmad Hashim Qaisari, who is also standing for the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of parliament, said he had seen election staff adding blank ballot papers to the piles for particular candidates, "Blank and spoilt ballot papers, which are all invalid, are being put among the votes for certain candidates… this is in itself fraud."   When he challenged the vote-counting staff, he says they replied, "Oh, I'm sorry, I made a mistake."   Observers from the Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections, ANFREL, said complaints about bias by polling and counting staff had been made in Jalalabad, Herat, Kunduz and Kandahar. In Kandahar, many candidates accused JEMB of recruiting family members and relatives of some candidates and alleged that the JEMB staff had been supporting candidates in numerous ways.   Observers found that 1,200 ballot papers had gone missing in Herat, although they were subsequently located. In Chagcharan, in neighbouring Ghor province, there were complaints about candidates coercing voters.   According to a summary report by ANFREL, "Some counting staff in Ghazni [province] did not even know how to count. Some put wrong numbers while others counted the wrong candidate number…. One supervisor in Ghazni was sacked … for illegally adding votes for her favoured candidate at the counting centre."   ANFREL also reported, "In Mazar-e-Sharif, a female counting-staff member apparently used her lipstick to mark ballot papers for a particular candidate so as to make them invalid."   The organisation reported that more than 100 ballot boxes in Ghazni were set aside pending further investigation. Erben said that nationwide, about 4.5 per cent of the total number of ballot boxes, had been quarantined pending further review.   Habibullah, an observer for one parliamentary candidate in Mazar-e-Sharif, told IWPR, "During the lunch break, while everybody was eating, I saw Jamilah [a vote counter] using her mascara brush to mark her chosen candidate on blank ballot papers for."   JEMB supervisor Don MacNorton confirmed that this individual had been fired, “because it was an open violation".   Qayom Babak, a provincial council candidate in Mazar-e-Sharif, accuses Washington of encouraging ballot manipulation.   "This election is an American process, and it has been implemented by the Americans and JEMB, which is an American puppet,” he said. He charged that the election body would do whatever it takes to ensure victory for its favoured candidates, “All this mismanagement is for this purpose."   Shukria Barakzai, standing for the Wolesi Jirga in Kabul province, says that she saw counting staff putting votes that had been cast for her in with those of another candidate, "My votes were being assigned to the other candidate - but I took them back and also found other missing votes."   Some election staff workers have admitted to IWPR that they have added votes to those candidates whom they knew.   One man, counting in Wardak province, told IWPR, "There are two Hazara candidates from Behsood district who were getting more votes than other candidates. I don’t want these two candidates to succeed, so I put some of their votes in with those of another candidate who is not from the Hazara group."   Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul and Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi an IWPR staff reporter in Mazar-e-Sharif.

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