Finishing the unfinished election (1): Helmand, Khost and Farah
As the final provincial council results are being finally and gradually released, an early analysis of the figures shows that the fraud in the provincial council election has, unsurpisingly, been largely left untouched.
The IEC audit that disqualified over a million votes focused solely on the presidential election and the need to arrive at some kind of an outcome, while the complaints process did very little to track and counter the bulk of the manipulation in the provincial council vote. This is particularly visible in the provinces where the IEC audit uncovered the most widespread fraud.
There are seven provinces wheremore than halfÂ of the total presidential votes were disqualified. These provinces are Paktika (after the audit and the complaints processÂ only 11.5% of the votes were left), Nooristan (only 17.5% of the votes left), Kandahar (28.4% left), Paktia (33.0% left), Helmand (48.6%) and Farah (48.8%). And even the votes that were counted after the investigations cannot be assumed to have been clean, as the audit only included those polling stations with the most obvious indications of ballot stuffing. This is illustrated by the fact that, for instance, the final Paktika presidential count contains only 171 invalid and invalidated votes on a remaining total of 24,615 votes, which is an implausibly low number.
Unfortunately, the sampled nature of the IEC audit meant that the investigation provided an estimated percentage of the total number of votes that should be disqualified per presidential candidate, but did not specify which individual polling stations had been tainted by fraud. This meant that the information provided by the audit was unusable in the much more localised provincial council election (the only information that was usable were the findings related to the polling stations in the sample, but even that investigation was in many cases only cursory, and it is not sure whether these findings have been used in the final provincial council count).
As of today, twelve provinces have had their final provincial council results released: Kapisa, Wardak, Khost, Sar-e Pol, Badghis, Farah, Helmand, Zabul, Uruzgan, Ghor, Panjshir and Daikondi. Of the seven â€˜worst offendingâ€™ provinces in the presidential election (the provinces where more than 50% of the votes were disqualified) so far only the least extreme cases â€“ Helmand, Khost and Farah â€“ have been announced.
Where in the Helmand presidential vote in the end only 65,489 votes were allowed to pass, in the provincial council election 123,842 votes were counted as valid, with only 2,699 votes disqualified (as opposed to over 69,000 in the presidential vote). TheÂ final results per polling stationÂ still show a large number of polling stations with obviously suspicious voting patterns. In an election with such small margins â€“ the last elected male and female candidates received respectively 3,219 and 1,014 votes â€“ allowing such a large number of most probably ballot-stuffed votes to pass, confirms that the exercise was a contest in fraud mobilisation rather than an election.
Khost and Farah show a similar picture. In Khost only 43,057 votes out of 116,261 were allowed to pass in the presidential vote, while in the provincial council election 109,547 votes were counted as valid. In Farah 44,113 out of 90,334 presidential votes were counted, as opposed to 89,235 provincial council votes.
It is fairly safe to conclude that in the areas and polling stations where widespread presidential ballot stuffing took place, this was generally replicated in the provincial council vote â€“ albeit often for multiple candidates. The ballot boxes were present in the same polling stations with the same staff and, at the end of day, contained comparable numbers of votes. There are no plausible explanations that include large numbers of real voters turning up and voting only in the provincial council election, while the presidential ballots are being stuffed.
In the Helmand provincial council electionÂ some votes were invalidated, but inÂ KhostÂ andÂ FarahÂ the ECC investigations did not lead to any disqualification of votes. This illustrates the almost negligible impact of the complaints process. It of course doesnâ€™t help that in many cases the complaints are incomplete and sometimes fabricated, and that they only cover a small proportion of the polling stations that have been otherwise reported as problematic. But it is clear that process is not suited to follow up indications of fraud in any meaningful way. The method where suspicious result patterns trigger an audit, that was used (in a sampled manner) in the presidential election, needs to be modified and refined so that fraud can be addressed at a local level too â€“ of course assuming that next time it will actually be implemented and upheld.
It is clear that the time and resources to properly investigate the provincial council results for this round have long run out (and it is also by no means sure that it would actually still be possible to establish how people may have voted). So the provincial councils are likely to be sworn in as they have appeared on the posted lists â€“ except Ghazni and possibly Nangarhar, but that is for a next blog â€“ and the voters and unsuccessful candidates will shrug their shoulders and get on with their life. But those involved in organizing, supporting and monitoring the elections should make good use of the wealth of information, that is now available and that is still being released, information on where and how fraud was done, and how it was not properly addressed. To be taken by surprise again, and to have to improvise a response again, would be unforgivable.