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Voter Coercion Alleged in North

Supporters of General Dostum accused of using fraudulent means to qualify for a place on September’s parliamentary ballot.
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi

Voters in the Jowzjan province of northern Afghanistan say supporters of General Abdul Rashid Dostum are seizing their voter-registration cards in order to ensure his favoured candidates get nominated for this September’s parliamentary election.


The cards were issued for the presidential election last October, but are now being used to nominate candidates for this year’s vote. The election rules stipulate that anyone wanting to stand in the ballot must submit copies of cards taken from 500 of his or her constituents.


The process is supposed to be entirely voluntary, and coercing voters to provide their cards is forbidden.


Government employee Rahmatullah told IWPR that his boss, a Dostum supporter, demanded his voting card, “After he got a copy of my card, he returned it to me the following day.”


Rahmatullah also alleged that his wife's voter-registration card was also taken without her consent at the school where she teaches by the principal, another supporter of the general.


Dostum is one of several former warlords whose appointments to government positions have stirred controversy. After standing against Hamed Karzai in the October presidential election, Dostum found himself appointed armed forces chief of staff by the president on March 1. He subsequently resigned as leader - at least officially - of the Junbesh-e-Milli faction which has been associated with powerful militia forces in the north of Afghanistan.


Rahmatullah said he feared local officials might retaliate against him for speaking out.


Another voter, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation, said his local commander had also taken his registration card by force.


“This commander, who is an ex-commander under General Dostum and an important figure in the area, ordered me to give him my card,” he said. "Nobody can contradict this man for fear of their life.”


About 10,000 candidates are expected to register for spots on the September 18 election ballot sheet. Afghans will elect 249 members to the Wolesi Jirga, or National Assembly. The registration period runs from April 30 to May 19.


“Those who are under these commanders will obviously give their cards - and their votes - to them," said another government employee who spoke on condition of anonymity.


Azizullah Kargar, the deputy head of Junbesh, dismissed the complaints.


Kargar said the party wasn't stealing registrations, and didn't need to.


“Junbesh has a lot of supporters, so we don’t [need to] to take cards from the local people by force,” he told IWPR.


Jowzjan provincial governor Ruz Mohammad Nur said he opposed the practice.


“I do not agree with taking votes or cards from people by force," he said. "I have told people several times not to vote for powerful figures, and that they should vote for those who really represent them.


“If anyone has protests, he should come to me and I will solve them, because I do not agree with taking cards forcibly."


Card seizures have been reported in other parts of the country as well, and political analyst Qasim Akhgar worries that such coercion could result in a sham elections and a skewed assembly.


“With the existence of the warlords in different parts of the country, the elections are being held for show," he said.


“Since will be impossible to head off all these gunmen any time soon, the situation means the gunmen will hold most of the power in parliament.”


Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff writer in Mazar-e-Sharif.


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