People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 41

October 10, 2010


Flawed Afghan Elections


Yohannan Chemerapally


DESPITE claims by Afghan and US officials of having conducted a comparatively fair and free elections this time, there are widespread allegations of fraud. Afghanistan went to the polls on September 18 to elect a new parliament, the Wolesi Jirga. It was the second parliamentary elections since the American invasion in 2001. The first parliament, elected in 2005, was packed with many notorious warlords and their henchmen. This time too, history seems to be repeating itself. The new assembly could even see supporters of Gulbudin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami party taking their seats. Hekmatyar, who even now is formally aligned to the Taliban, has put up many candidates in his area of influence. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai seems to have been successful in persuading Hekmatyar, with the blessings of Islamabad, to enter into negotiations with the government.


Another notorious warlord in the fray is Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf. In the early nineties, Sayyaf, then with the American backed mujahedin fighting against a secular government in Kabul, was involved in the massacre of hundreds of the minority Hazaras. None of the warlords facing grave charges of human rights violations have been prosecuted. Instead they have been rehabilitated politically by Washington for lending a helping hand in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. President Karzai signed an amnesty bill in 2007 granting amnesty from war crimes for all the warlords and their followers. Malai Joya, the outspoken former parliamentarian said that the majority of the seats in the new parliament will go to “photocopies of Sayyaf”. She was expelled from parliament in 2007 for her criticism of Karzai’s policies and his patronage of warlords and drug lords.


With the warlords and their proxies in the fray and the Taliban calling for a boycott, it was no surprise that vote rigging, intimidation and violence were widespread. It has been reported that out of 2500 candidates contesting for 249 seats, the majority have been tainted by accusations of corruption and bloodletting. In the 2005 parliamentary polls, according to the independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, more than 80 per cent of the legislators from the provinces and 60 per cent of those elected form Kabul, had “links to armed groups”. Many of those who won the last elections have managed to become owners of luxurious villas in Dubai.





The outgoing Wolesi Jirga was not been taken seriously by president Karzai. After the parliament passed no confidence motions against some of his ministers, Karzai used his executive powers to allow them to stay on. An election decree issued by Karzai that was rejected by parliament went on to become law. Power though concentrated in the presidency does give legislators a platform to air divergent views. Many parliamentarians, for instance, had called for strong action by the government, after NATO forces raided a house in Nangrahar, killing the close relatives of the female member of parliament, Safia Saddiqi. Parliamentarians had said that the incident highlighted president Karzai’s inability to protect Afghans from the foreign forces. However, a friendly Loya Jirga will help president Karzai to rewrite the constitution so that term limits on the presidency can be removed. The constitution in its present form prohibits Karzai from seeking a third term. A pliable legislature is also needed to rubber stamp the US plans to have a long term military presence, in the form of military bases, in Afghanistan. 


The Election Commission had issued 17.5 million voter registration cards. Most observers were of the view that this was a very high number as the number of registered voters is not known to exceed 12.5 million. Besides this, election observers reported that millions more of fake registration cards came from Pakistan, allowing voters to cast ballots many times over. The security situation had discouraged large numbers of foreign observers from coming to Afghanistan. In contrast, hundreds of international observers were present to witness the presidential elections held last year.  For the parliamentary polls, the government in Kabul had deployed 280,000 police and soldiers to provide security at the polling booths. In the presidential elections last year, only 150,000 security personnel were deployed.





The latest quarterly report from the Canadian government stated that the security situation in Afghanistan is worsening. The report describes Afghanistan as an “increasingly volatile” nation, where assassinations are growing and casualties reaching new record levels. US and NATO troops have suffered the highest number of casualties this year since the invasion of the country in 2001 and there are still three months for the year to end.


 The UN special representative in Kabul, Stefan de Mistura, implicitly suggested that the international community should learn to live with the facts of life in Afghanistan and accept the election results. “Let’s remember we are not in Switzerland, we are in Afghanistan at the most critical period of the conflict”, he told the media. Haroun Mir, the director of the Afghan Centre for Research and Policy Studies, a think tank in Kabul, said what Afghans hope for is an “acceptable election”, not a “fair and transparent election”. Abdullah Abdullah, who had contested against Karzai in the controversial presidential elections last year, warned that if elections were again rigged, it would only strengthen the hands of the Taliban resistance.  


In the run-up to the elections, four candidates and twenty of their supporters were killed. The turnout for the vote was uneven. In many provinces, the polling booths were empty. The Election Commission had to remove more than 400 voting centres as the government was unable to provide security. The Taliban had issued a call urging Afghans to boycott the elections and instead focus “on driving away the invaders” from the country. Voters turned out in Kabul but were absent in many areas like the troubled Helmand province. The Afghan Independent Electoral Commission reported that many constituencies reported more than 100 per cent polling, especially in south eastern part of the country where the Taliban is in control of the countryside. The only way this can happen is when election officials stuff ballot boxes without verification of election identity cards.  A campaigner for the influential politician and strongman, Haji Abdul Latif Ahmadzai, contesting from southern Logar province was caught with 300 fake voter cards. Police also detained a man with 600 fake registration cards in Jalalabad city.


Reports by observers indicated that the levels of violence were higher than that witnessed in last year’s flawed presidential polls. A private security firm based in Kabul has enumerated 600 insurgent attacks on the day the parliamentary poll was held. A Taliban attack on a polling station in northern Afghanistan killed six people. In the presidential elections held last year there were only 450 reported attacks. President Karzai has however hailed the elections as a success and “a positive step towards democracy”. The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon praised the Afghan people for their “courage and determination”.


The statement of the US embassy in Kabul was more nuanced. “The results and the quality of the elections will not be immediately evident”, the statement said. The statement added that the US will support the Independent Afghan Electoral Commission’s efforts in carrying out “thorough measures to detect and adjudicate fraud”. In a press conference in May, president Obama had said that the holding of “credible parliamentary elections” was a crucial part of the US and Afghan administration’s efforts to improve governance.





That goal, going from the evidence of the parliamentary poll, seems to be a distant one. The Afghan government itself says that only 3.6 million people cast their votes constituting only 31 per cent of the 11.3 million registered voters. The Independent Election Commission’s claim of more than 17 million registered voters is generally treated with scepticism. In the presidential elections, more than 7 million votes were cast, though there is widespread acknowledgement that a significant number of the votes resulted from ballot rigging. The Afghan defence minster, Abdul Rahim Wardak, blamed the Taliban propaganda for the low turnout, saying that it had “affected the psyche of the people”.


The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, in a statement said that it “had serious concerns about the quality of the elections”. The organisation had sent out 7000 observers to monitor the elections. “Violence by candidates, their agents and local power brokers were reported in several areas and so were a worrying number of instances of government officials interfering in the voting centres to sway the results in favour of their chosen candidates. Ballot stuffing was seen in varying extents in most provinces, as were proxy voting and underage voting”, the statement from the Foundation said. The New York Times reported that in Kunduz city, journalists and election observers witnessed election officials and party workers stuffing votes behind locked doors. Preliminary election results are expected in early October but if the previous elections were any indicators, a deluge of complaints by the defeated candidates to the Election Commission is bound to further delay the announcements of final results.