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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 42, October 9, 2010

Widespread Fraud Mars Afghan Parliamentary Poll

Thursday 14 October 2010


by Riyaz Ahmed

Elections to Afghanistan’s parliament, that took place on September 18, were marred by widespread fraud which could affect results in a third of the country’s provinces. The elections were successfully held despite the Taliban insurgents’ threat to disrupt the ballot but release of preliminary results has been delayed till the middle of this month (October 17) not only because of allegations of fraud but also due to the need for more verifications and recounts.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has confirmed that it has received over 3000 complaints the elections. It further said cases have been registered and filed on nearly 1800 of those complaints 58 per cent of which were considered serious enough to influence the electoral outcome. This could, of course, change during investigations but anyway the high preliminary figure is a matter of concern.

The IEC says it has the thus far nullified some or all votes from 227 polling centres and had ordered an audit and recount of 339 centres. Over 1000 centres out of a total of around 6800 were closed during the September 18 vote on account of security fears.

According to the IEC, the provincial election chief in Khost, a remote, volatile southeastern province bordering Pakistan (where insurgents allied to the Taliban and veteran guerrilla leader Jalaluddin Haqqani are active), had been arrested after fraud complaints and was facing a probe by prosecutors. “The final decision (on his fate) will be taken by the Attorney-General’s office,” disclosed IEC spokesperson Noor Mohammad Noor while speaking to Reuters.

The complaints are not evenly distributed and happen to be markedly worse in 13 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces; among them half are deemed to be high priority—forecasting bitter fights over the results.

The New York Times has reported that the complaints to the provincial election commissions have so far included video clips showing ballot stuffing, strong-arming of election officials by candidates’ agents, and even handcuffing and detention of election workers. Witnesses allege election officials themselves have, at some places, carried out the fraud; in some others government employees did the job. Many of the complaints have come from candidates and election officials but these were supported by Afghan and international election observers and diplomats.

Most Afghans are sensitive to fraud since charges of largescale graft against President Hamid Karzai during his re-election in 2009 seriously undermined his credibility both at home and abroad.

This time around candidates in the southern province of Kandahar have accused President Karzai’s influential half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, of drawing up a list of winners even before the September 18 parliamentary elections actually took place.

The widespread tampering and bare-knuckle tactics of some candidates have raised grave doubts about the effort to build a credible government that enjoys support of both the Afgans as well as the Obama Administration and its NATO partners currently engaged in re-evaluating their commitment to the war on terror in the country.

However, American and international diplomats have kept a distance from the spate of complaints by candidates on the entire electoral process. NATO and US Embassy officials assert that the elections were an Afghan affair and Afghan themselves were responsible for their outcome.

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