Rights & Freedoms

Elections 2014 (30): Some initial reflections on E-Day II


More female voters than in the first round? The IEC announced yesterday a female turnout of 38 per cent. A number of provincial reporters mentioned longer queues of women in front of polling centres, too. These and other preliminary statements and figures will have to be scrutinised over the upcoming weeks. Photo: AAN

More female voters than in the first round? The IEC announced yesterday a female turnout of 38 per cent. A number of provincial reporters mentioned longer queues of women in front of polling centres, too. These and other preliminary statements and figures will have to be scrutinised over the upcoming weeks. Photo: AAN

The counting of second round votes from the presidential elections is still under way in much of Afghanistan, although results are now trickling in from some polling stations. Meanwhile, everyone is trying to assess how well the second round went: the impact of security incidents, level of fraud and, especially importantly, how big the turnout was. A high turnout of genuine voters leaves less room for both fraud and spurious complaints from the candidates and will make a final result easier to call. Making an assessment of the second round is difficult, though, given the necessarily fragmentary nature of everyone’s experience. Nevertheless, AAN senior analyst Thomas Ruttig has brought together what information is available – from the AAN team, the media and others – and put together this initial assessment of how the day went.

What is the data basis?

Talking about second E-Day, it is important to keep in mind that most impressions are personal and therefore limited to what each individual saw. AAN’s Kate Clark went to the rural Bagrami (largely Pashtun) district of Kabul province and encountered lots of voters and complaints of ballot shortages. In western, Hazara-inhabited parts of the capital, however, that had seen a massive turnout on 5 April, reports to the contrary came in: fewer voters than last time. Neither may be representative even of Kabul as a whole, let alone the country.

AAN has staff members and friends (journalists and civil society activists) sending in reports from 14 provinces, including Kabul, and in some cases, they were able to travel out to nearby district centres (see our snapshots here and here). There are additional sources we deem reliable: journalists we know and who put snippets of information on the social media, with initial newspaper reports coming out. There are news agencies, independent Afghan observer organisations and networks of citizen reporters.

One of the largest, Paiwandgah, (its mapping here), had – if I understand their coding correctly – 12 of their own sources in seven provinces and received reports from almost all of them, also, apparently, additional reports through ‘guest authors’. Some of the reporters might have fed several reporting outlets. In the middle of the day, Paiwandgah sent out a call for contributions from a handful provinces it had nothing from, and at the end of the day, there were still some blank spaces on the map (Zabul, Panjshir, Laghman and Nuristan) and others with only one report from (Paktia, Paktika, Kunar, Baghlan, Samangan and Farah). Paiwandgah covered 13 provinces with around ten reports. That means that its picture of two thirds of all provinces is sketchy at best (and may have been coloured by personal inclinations, given that its citizen reporters are voters, too).

As in the first round, many Afghan mainstream media outlets decided, possibly with a degree of official ‘requesting’, to have a blackout about election-related Taleban violence. It was not watertight, at least on social media, but may still have affected impressions of how the day went.

How was the mood?

Judging from available news channels and comparing the second with the first round (5 April), enthusiasm seems to have given in somewhat. There were still plenty of pictures of happy voters, heroic disabled people mastering the definitely not barrier-free environs of the polling stations, inked fingers, long queues of voters and an announcement by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of a large turnout (they said seven million – about the same as for the first round – 38 per cent women). But this time, it all sounded a bit less happy than at the end of the day on the first round. This may be because of the overwhelming relief felt by many on 5 April. Few had dared hope for such a large turnout, such happy voters and the Taleban failing to disrupt the event. It may also be that the naturally more polarised campaign for the run-off had hit the nerves of voters harder this time, for example the fact that there had been some nasty personal attacks and (albeit reasonably limited) attempts to mobilise along ethnic lines, (see here and also here) and fear that the Taleban might more aggressively try to disrupt the second round after their ‘failure’ in the first.

Some Afghans AAN talked to also mentioned that they had been disappointed not to see ‘their’ candidate succeed in the first round; thinking this was clear evidence of their vote having no significance, they gave up on the second round. It was also a very hot day in some areas, for example Samangan and Kandahar. A veteran Afghan journalist, the BBC’s Daud Junbish, tweeted that he waited close to the end of polling (4 pm local time, no extension, this time) to cast his vote in the 43 degrees ‘cool’ of the afternoon.

Turnout, ballot papers running out

Reports of ballots running out came in as early as 10 am from Bagrami, Kabul and, from our own staff, at 10.30 am from a men’s polling station in Kandahar city. At 12.20, a Paiwandgah citizen reporter reported the same from Karta-ye Nur in Mazar-e Sharif as did a journalist from different districts in Mazar, including Hairatan and Dehdadi.

Later, the IEC said that it had had to resupply 333 polling stations because of ballots running out. Our reporter from Kandahar confirmed that the polling station in Kandahar later re-opened, too. The same was true for the one case reported from Bamyan city (where in the first round massive ballot shortages occurred). However, an AAN analyst in Bamyan also reported that voters who did not go and vote this time, among other reasons, said that the long hours waiting for extra ballots in the first round (that sometimes never came) had put them off trying again, with all the field work now due in the potato fields. In another case in Kabul, it took a reported three hours’ waiting time to get the new papers. Other reports on social media quoted voters expressing their lack of understanding as to why this could be allowed to happen again and that lessons should have been learned from round one.

But the running out of ballots is not necessarily a sign of bad planning and happened partly because the organisers could not know for sure where voters would turn up; many voters might have changed their minds about where to go after having experienced ballot shortages or insecurity in the first round or may not have voted on 5 April. Let’s remind ourselves that there is no consolidated voter register – not even an unconsolidated one that would at least attach voters to certain polling centres; Afghan voters can vote wherever they choose. (By the way, I did not see the famous e-tazkira – presented as due to be in the hands of 75 per cent of the electorate by E-Day – mentioned once in any of the two rounds of voting.) At the same time, the setting up of contingency polling stations, ie additional polling stations in centres with unexpectedly high voter turnout, seemed to have worked. (As to problems with the list of where new stations were established, see an in-depth look here.)

Again, however, there was no full overview about how many polling centres were open yesterday. After the closing of the polls, IEC chairman Yusef Nuristani gave a figure of 6204, but added that the commission was unclear of 40 others in remote areas.

From the early morning on, photos showing long queues of voters appeared in the media, both in front of polling stations for female and male voters in Herat, Bamyan, Mazar-e Sharif and some parts of Kabul, as well as in Khost (male only). Particularly numerous were reports about more women coming to vote: a citizen reporter from Kunduz claimed “much greater female participation than first round” including in areas that had seen no women turnout in the first round in Kunduz city and Dasht-e Archi district; a journalist wrote from Zabul about “large number of people specially women voting“; the same came from Sang-e Masha, the centre of Jaghori district (“females outnumber males, voting in greater numbers than 1st round”, from Herat’s Zendajan (“despite a dust storm”) and from Nangrahar province (“significant compared to 1st round, women have even voted in Hesarak, a Taleban stronghold”). Our colleagues in Bamyan, in the provincial centre, in Aibak, the provincial centre of rather conservative Samangan, saw even more women than men voting.

Some women polling stations in Kabul, like in Shahr-e Naw, defied the trend: “At one women’s voting centre in LycĂ©e Zarghuna from 7am to 4pm only 132 votes were cast. Last time we had more than 500.” From Western Kabul, photos came in of rather empty polling centres that had seen high turnout last time. AAN saw “short lines of women voting” in Kabul’s Kart-e Chahr, Kart-e Sakhi and Bagh-e Bala, but was told by IEC staff that this was “due to more polling centres [available] for women”.

From Paghman, a district just outside Kabul city, low turnout was reported in the morning, with voters in single or double digits only, on both the men’s and women’s sides (here and here), while a resident ambassador saw “many voters” there – although his Twitter photo showed polling staff only.

Reuters reported that in “rural Wardak, fear of Taliban keeps voters away”. A tribal elder from Sawkay in eastern Kunar was quoted saying that people were unable to vote because the security threat was higher than in the first round; a landowner in the contested district of Chahrdara in of Kunduz claimed that more than 1000 families had been deprived of their votes because of Taleban threats; according to AAN information, the Taleban regularly demonstrate a presence just outside the district centre. Another citizen journalist from Arghandab district, Kandahar, noted voting “in orderly fashion, but turnout was low.”

When, later in the afternoon, the first official statistics came in, with an estimated seven million voters according to IEC chair Yusef Nuristani, the number was not far off of what had been estimated at the end of voting on 5 April. Neither figure accounted for fraudulent votes. But both rounds are well up compared to the 2009 elections.

Many journalists on social media were sceptical about the high turnout figure, (including Frud Bezhan from RFL, Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian, Ben Shepherd of AFP and Sean Carberry of NPR). At this stage, it is very difficult to judge the figures. Fewer voters at a centre could be an indication of lower turnout or might be a result of more polling centres having been opened nearby or of faster second round voting (only two candidates this time and no huge provincial council ballot paper to deal with). The high official turnout figures could be due to more voters – or more fraud.

A quick word on fraud – Nader Mohseni, spokesperson of the Independent Elections Complaints Commission (IECC) said that in general the second round has been “less challenging” than the first round and that, so far, they had received fewer complaints. (1)

Security

Before the second round, there had been fears of (much) greater Taleban violence than there was in the first round. The Taleban had reacted very angrily to a media blackout on E-Day violence; they felt underreported and accused the media of rank treachery and their threats to undermine the elections were undiminished.

Assessing the violence of the first round (widely seen as the Taleban failing to disrupt the poll), it later turned out that, at least quantitatively, election day violence had actually been approximately as high as in 2009. However, the movement had largely failed to seriously disturb the elections, apart from in some hotspots. Qualitatively, however, it seems the Taleban had often not ‘shot to kill’ during the first round of voting. In other words, it seemed possible that fear of a political backlash if they wholeheartedly tried to stop the elections – which would have meant mass civilian casualties – may have stayed their hand. On the other side, the success of the ANSF in keeping security and preventing attacks would be another factor to bear in mind.

How many attacks took place on E-Day 2 is still difficult to say, partly because a media blackout on reporting attacks was again partly in place. Official figures have been coming in, however. Towards the end of the day, the Ministry of Interior reported some 150 incidents and, after polling closed, Interior Minister Omar Daudzai said that insurgents had killed at least 20 civilians, including an IEC staffer, and 26 police and soldiers; 60 insurgents had reportedly been killed.

It was not clear, though, whether casualties from a number of cases of violence between candidates – in Kabul, Faryab and Nangrahar, for example, – were included in those statistics. Some of these ‘green on green’ incidents led to the temporary closures of polling centres. In the Nangrahar case, bodyguards of one member of parliament reportedly fired at people shouting slogans for the opposing candidate, killing at least one child. In Faryab, the car of a candidate agent was reportedly set ablaze; here, also two candidates agents started a fight in which, later on, a local commander joined in, firing shots at voters.

As was expected, the Taleban, using their social media channels, spread ‘news’ of a much higher number of attacks, claiming to have launched more than 600. (During round one, they had claimed a far higher 1,088 attacks, see here).

However, what sounds like not a bad day, violence-wise, was still bad enough. In the apparently gravest incident of rockets fired, confirmed by government officials, five to seven children were killed and several more injured in Alisher district, Khost province (according to dpa, German press agency and other sources). Laghman’s governor reported a rocket attack on a local residence that resulted in the deaths of four civilians, including two children. Rockets also killed a 12-year old child at a polling centre at a school in Kunar’s Pech valley, another child near Lashkargah and one near a polling centre in Logar’s Khoshi district. Local sources from Sherzad district’s Gandomak area, Nangrahar, told the BBC, a rocket hit a house killing one person and injuring six others.

Even Kabul received a few hits in the morning, one damaging a civilian home in Kart-e Naw in the southeast of the city and possibly causing injuries to those inside. At one polling station in the area, in the Muhammad Hashem Maiwanwal High School, an AAN analyst reported that IEC staff thought morning turnout had been affected by the strike. Stars and Stripes had an impressive photo of an IED detonating in the middle of the provincial centre or Wardak, Maidan Shahr. The Wall Street Journal’s real-time update adds a number of other incidents. Most happened in the eastern region, but minister Daudzai was quoted as saying Kandahar was the most problematic area yesterday.

In Kandahar, three insurgents occupied a building around 1 pm, in what looked like a relatively small version of one of their ‘complex attacks’, which often involves shooting from an elevated position at government installations or such. This time, the Afghan armed forces were able to contain them. People continued to vote and, as our colleague reported, life was going on “strangely normal in the streets as if this was celebration firing”. Similar behaviour was reported from Wardak and Kunduz where people waited out incoming fire and continued voting. Tolo News said in the morning that “24 polling stations [more likely centres] in 8 different districts have come under attack, but voters still showing up.” In Kandahar, the ANSF waited for the voting to end and only then started attacking the insurgents. Many hours later, after midday of 15 June, the ANSF finally declared the operation over. All four insurgents had been killed, along with three policemen, with others wounded.

Too early to tell

The sheer amount of anecdotal material in the media and social media on yesterday’s election day might well seduce analysts into drawing quick conclusions. But the above summary provides information from just about 32 districts – fewer than ten per cent of the more than 400 districts countrywide – and almost all deliver one anecdote, incident or detail only, not a comprehensive picture. The reporting net cast on E-Day did not, by a long way, cover the whole country. Moreover, even photos can mislead. Long queues of voters picture on photos, for example, might just be the result of slow processing or lack of ballot papers or a temporary rush to vote. All this is not enough to draw any sort of conclusion, and definitely not to back bold statements like “impressive high voter turnout!” (made even before the IEC gave its figures).

Moreover, reports can be contradictory. Take this example of Zurmat, in Gardez (see our first round reporting here), a typical rural area little reported on. This time, there were reports of more Taleban present and of them cutting off roads to the district centre on the evening before the election. One AAN source spoke of the Taleban “playing hide and seek all day,” with some ambushes on the district centre. He saw Afghan armed forces (ANA, NDS, nazm-e ama, ie the Public Order Police) preventing people from going to the poling stations, claiming – unnecessarily to his avail – “we cannot provide security for you.” This presented a “very bad image of the ANA in Zurmat,” he commented. A frequent AAN guest author, however, reported from Zurmat: “Taliban reported to have allowed people to vote.” Contradictory reports also came from an insurgency-influenced district of Parwan: “A police officer in Siagard told us that in one village the Taliban had allowed people to vote, while in three other villages, they did not.”

We need to wait and collect data and analyse for a few more days, particularly looking at the independent Afghan observers’ reports. The first press release of the most established of these organisations, FEFA, is still careful, but clearly notes fraud, ballot paper shortages, late openings of polling stations, entrance denial to observers and low quality ink “in most polling stations” as well security threats by “armed antigovernment insurgents and 
 local powerbrokers on voters, monitors and observers.” It adds that “the quality and quantity of these reports indicate [a] repetition of the bitter experiences of the first round,” indirectly contradicting statements of international observers of better election organisation during this second round.

And the results?

Many journalists contacting AAN on election day were unaware that there would be no preliminary results announced on the evening of election day or by Sunday evening – as happened after the first round. There are obvious drawbacks of issuing preliminary results, but they do at least, during the long wait for the final result, damp down suspicions of vote tampering by the commissions and mean the electorate and the political classes have some sense of what the IEC is doing and where the election might be heading. All this means that for the preliminary final result, we will have to wait until 2 July and for the final final one until 22 July, according to the IEC election timeline and that only if all goes well.

(1) The press conference was carried live on TV networks.  Mohseni said that, from midnight on elections night, they had received 275 complaints, 140 by phone (not counted as valid) and the rest – 135 – having come in from all 34 provinces. 29 of these complaints, he said, were about IEC workers which, he said, was considered high. People have 48 hours, in total, to register complaints.

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Thematic Category: Rights & Freedoms