Report: Afghan elections crippled largely by governing bodies
Stars and Stripes February 19, 2011
RAF MILDENHALL, England — Afghanistan’s second parliamentary election on Sept. 18 was expected to be a messy affair, but the worst offenders appear to be the poll’s governing bodies, according to a new report by the nonprofit Afghanistan Analysts Network.
A lack of transparency in electoral audits and disqualifications made by the country’s Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission have made the results random at best and manipulated at worst, according the study.
Although the IEC and the ECC released regular updates and large amounts of raw data about the election, “there is little clarity on what exactly happened,” according to the report.
Power struggles within the Afghan government continue to reverberate months after September’s election.
The new parliament was sworn in last month, but clashes continue between the commissions and other parts of the government.
This week, Agence France-Presse reported that the IEC’s offices were raided on the orders of a special tribunal backed by President Hamid Karzai.
The two electoral bodies were more active than expected, and disqualified a large number of votes and winning candidates, according to Martine van Bijlert, a Kabul AAN analyst and the report’s author.
“This in turn resulted in the (endless) scuffles around whether the senior electoral officials themselves were involved in defrauding the election and whether the new parliament is now legal or not,” van Bijlert said in an e-mail Friday.
This latest electoral fiasco follows the problems of the 2009 election, which Karzai is alleged to have rigged, and again highlights how far the Afghan government has to go until it can stand on its own, according to van Bijlert.
“The immaturity of the system leaves contested processes wide open to political pressure, factional manipulation and improvisation,” the report states. “It illustrates the fundamental problem that Afghanistan’s system of government has no centre of gravity.”
“Authorities are ill-defined,” van Bijlert said in a release accompanying the report. “When there is a problem there is no agreed mechanism for arbitration and there is no power that is respected enough to have the final say.”
In the past, the international community acted as the de facto election arbiters and enforcers, but their influence is waning as they eye an exit, according to van Bijlert.
“The internationals are running out of time and patience, with the transition looming,” she said. “But they should use whatever influence they still have … to simplify electoral procedures, particularly with regard to the count and the audits, and to strengthen independent institutions in time for the next election.”
Ballots and candidates disqualified through the commissions’ interventions had far-reaching consequences, according to the report. Seven provinces saw 40 percent or more of their polling stations not included in the final result. In Nuristan province, the report states, ballots from 70 percent of polling stations were disallowed.
The IEC alone disqualified 1.2 million votes, which could represent about 20 percent of the total nationwide. While the ECC disqualified fewer than 300,000 ballots, it appears to have targeted winning or competitive candidates, changing the composition of at least 10 percent of the parliament, according to the report.
The way forward is unclear. Any further investigation would likely uncover more evidence of manipulation, “but it is unlikely to bring us any closer to how people actually voted,” van Bijlert said. “And it would probably also not provide a more credible outcome, as all actors are seen as potentially partial.”
Van Bijlert said the results don’t indicate that Afghans are somehow unready for democracy, but that a weak, factionalized government is unlikely to produce credible elections.
“I have heard Afghans wonder whether in the current situation it would not be better to have respected and influential leaders decide among themselves who should represent them in parliament,” she said. “That process can also be hijacked of course, but paradoxically it may well be perceived as more transparent and credible.”