Political Landscape

2010 Elections (35): How the West was won


The controversial final results of the parliamentary elections are out, and it is time to look at the impact of the decisions made by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), even though it is still not clear to what extent the Attorney General’s interventions will be able to affect the final tally. AAN analyst Fabrizio Foschini looks at who’s squeezed in and who’s been squeezed out in two western provinces: Herat and Farah.

On Wednesday, together with most of the country’s provinces, Herat found out who its winning candidates were. Of course, it is still unclear what will happen after the Attorney General rejected the issuing of the final results by the Independent Election Commission (IEC). It would be somehow ironic if, after having dodged all the disqualifications of votes, partial or total – the latter meaning the wholesale exclusion of a candidate – these survivors’ success was to be canceled by a single blow from the general prosecutor’s office. That still can happen – but for now, at least, they are the new set of delegates to the lower house of the parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, for the province.
The aftermath of the vote in Herat has been anything but a lull. Herat is second only to the capital in terms of population and allocation of seats (17) in the Wolesi Jirga and it suffered a medium-level of fraud and violence on Election Day. Accordingly, it is not among those provinces showing the highest number of invalidated polling centers – although the figure is still substantial(*). Even so, Herat shows the highest casualty toll in terms of disqualified candidates – eight. That does not count another three excluded by IEC decision before the vote.

The province’s ECC seems to have gone into a frenzy of activity soon after the vote, when, on 13 October, they were the first provincial branch to propose the invalidation of all the votes of a single candidate, Halim Taraki, a suggestion confirmed by the ECC central office. The candidate was accused of having used government resources during his campaign. The ECC also filed complaints against his brother, Salim Taraki, the mayor of Herat city, for the help he had lavished on his brother’s campaign.

Somewhat more unexpected came the next exclusion, as it targeted the candidate who had bagged by far the most votes, and who had looked since well before Election Day to be the favorite and the most self-confident among the runners, Nesar Ahmad Faizi Ghoriani. As the extremely wealthy and powerful owner of an electric company, Liberty Corporation, and a long-time ally of Ismail Khan, few if any in Herat would have bet even ten afghanis on him not winning. He was disqualified on 24 October by the ECC for his failure to resign from an official position (advisor to the provincial Electricity Department, by the way headed by his brother) in due time.

Both candidates, Taraki and Faizi Ghoriani, had been a tale on everybody’s lips in Herat during the weeks preceding the vote, being the most frequently mentioned examples of would-be vote buyers. Even the local ECC office spontaneously tackled the public perception of the two men in our first meeting in late August by saying that both had brought evidence that refuted the allegations against them. Interestingly enough, the head of the provincial ECC confessed to AAN the commission’s foreboding that it would not be able to act effectively shortly before the election: ‘Legally, we are independent and autonomous and only hold ourselves accountable to ECC headquarters in Kabul. But let me tell you that we have a lot of problems within the ECC. We won’t play an effective role in the process. The ECC has a symbolic role. We can’t do things seriously. We can’t investigate the more serious cases. We do not have access to 11 districts of Herat and so we have only covered the city centre. We should be called ECC for the city of Herat only.’

Whether the ECC spoke out of modesty or pessimism is hard to say. Sure is, however, that after the elections Herat’s ECC has kept on disqualifying candidates, mostly by invalidating all their votes because of fraud and this at a remarkable pace in comparison to other provinces.

Next in line, on 2 November, was Ghulam Qader Akbar, another wealthy candidate and among the leading contenders following the preliminary results. He is formerly a director of the province’s department of trade who also had enjoyed a close relationship with Ismail Khan before falling out of favor with him.

This necessarily brings us to the one element that seems to predominate in the minds of Herat’s politicians: Ismail Khan. The former Amir looks like a star in relation to which smaller planets must set their course if they want to keep a straight orbit, either in some degree of closeness or in a gravitational distance. This is of course partially true. Ismail Khan still wields a lot of influence in the province, having the capacity to mobilize supporters (for both political and military purposes) and control of many sources of economic revenue. At the same time, he is reported as not really being the ‘Amir’ anymore, having lost ground to a certain extent in the political domain. One can safely assume that, if it is true that being close to IK is a useful shortcut for many a businessman in the province, the mere presence of a majority of exponents of this class in the political arena and their ability to mobilize huge economic resources for electoral purposes has made the competition more pluralistic.

Notwithstanding that, many of the candidates seemed to view the success of their candidacy as a direct outcome of Ismail Khan’s will. A few days before the vote he called a meeting at his palace, and many candidates who once opposed him felt insecure enough to answer his call and pay him this sort of respect in exchange for an unofficial endorsement.

Well after the announcement of the preliminary result, another IK-related event dominated Herat talks about the election. About a week after the disqualification of Akbar, a cassette recording was circulated by the IEC and obtained by the Associated Press (it is possible to listen to the recording here). It features a person, allegedly Ismail Khan, trying to press on an IEC employee a list of names he would like to see – or would not be bothered by seeing – in the winning list, and a list of candidates who should not be allowed to sit in the next Wolesi Jirga. The list of the people to help is very long and comprises more names (20) than the actual seats (17), while the candidates to topple are 13. Comments on another couple of candidates are more neutral in tone. (See the names mentioned in the list in the annex.)

It is not easy to judge the authenticity of the audio recording, and not even appropriate, as an investigation is apparently being carried out to this purpose by the IEC, who for its part recognized that one of its employees is involved. Most of the comments made, the Herati dialect – although some argue that IK actually speaks with a more distinctive Shindandi accent – and the same timbre of voice lead one to believe that the man on the other side of the phone is actually Ismail Khan. Many people in Herat, however, entertain some doubts, pointing to the fact that it is easy nowadays to produce fake recordings of this sort. IK himself has not denied anything, preferring to stay mute. Many in turn say that Ismail Khan would use such means to influence the outcome of the election in his favour, and if not this one, probably a very similar telephone call might have been made by him.

Taking a look at the contents of the conversation might be worthwhile. The list of persons that Ismail Khan allegedly wants to help actually represent quite a motley crew: apart from some well-known supporters of his, they comprise the Hezb-e Wahdat provincial candidate, several conservative clerics, a couple of educated women activists and even a notorious warlord accused of links with the Taleban, who might well thank the huge shortcomings in the vetting process for allowing him to run in the election at all. By contrast, the list of rivals to eliminate looks more coherent: the targets are usually outspoken and active politicians who would take on an active role in their capacity as MPs, as well as some of his personal rivals, like the candidates close to the Afzali faction of IK’s old party, Jamiat-e Islami, or his mentioned ex-ally, Ghulam Qader Akbar.

The recording’s appearance shortly after the disqualification of the latter – it was reportedly purchased by a candidate after offers had been made to international newspapers – and its leaking to the media which made it available online, may have more significance than its content.

The alleged recording of IK’s pressure on the IEC to have his list of candidates nodded through is not serious enough to endanger Ismail Khan’s already polarized reputation – good or bad – in the eyes of Herati people and public opinion at large. It is likewise unlikely that an investigation could lead to criminal sanctions against such a powerful figure – even if it was proven beyond doubt that the voice on the tape belonged to him. But these things could constitute a point for the government in future negotiations involving him; IK will retain the power to mediate with or exercise leverage on most of the Herati delegates in parliament, and a figure to be dealt with in every issue regarding the province, and there will be many in the next future.

Anyway, returning to the elections’ results, the outstanding performance of the local ECC apparently contributed to dismantling much of what the famous telephone call could have achieved. On 20 November, the last and major batch of disqualifications by the ECC featured five more Herati candidates: Rahima Jami and Sayyid Shafiq who were mentioned among Ismail Khan favorites, and Ma’aruf Fazli, a prominent local member ofAfghan Mellat party about whom, however, both IK and his ally, Nesar Ahmad Ghoriani, had spoken in neutral terms(**).

It is true that the other two excluded candidates, Wahid Taheri, a brother of NSC chairman and former foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, and former MP Aziz Nadem, were certainly not close to the Amir, and the second also featured among the doomed ones on the telephone call. Likewise we have to consider that the disqualifications made room in the provincial winners’ list for other candidates, among whom one finds both Ismail Khan’s purported companions and some of his bitter rivals.

In the end, it does not really matter which side of the tape the winning candidates are on. Most of them seem just inadequate to represent one of Afghanistan’s most educated provinces in the parliament. Apart from some noteworthy exceptions, especially among the female candidates, the majority of seats from Herat province seem to have gone to conservative religious preachers or wealthy businessmen(***). The ECC disqualifications are not easily readable in a political frame: they targeted some of the major cases of fraud in the province, and all seem to rely on some kind of evidence and find correspondence with complaints listened by observers and other candidates right after the vote. At the same time, reasons to be satisfied with the ECC’s work are few. Herat may have the highest number of disqualified candidates countrywide, still this number does not match the majority among them who relied heavily on fraud to gather votes.

The Government and Ismail Khan could have easily come to terms long ago, since they seem to share the common objective to keep away serious political figures from the parliament and fill it with clients, businessmen and conservative or unqualified people. The local ECC may turn out to have been just active enough to trim the most blatant frauds and keep the impression of a decent election in Herat.

A more optimistic note regarding the outcome of ECC investigations could be borrowed from neighboring Farah. After the invalidation of the 34 polling centers of Purchaman district early in October (see our earlier blog about Farah here), two candidates who had been among the major fraudsters in that occasion were still free to enjoy the votes caught in other districts of the province and were actually in the winning list announced on the preliminary results. On 20 November, the ECC announced the disqualification of these two candidates, reportedly to the satisfaction of the province inhabitants. Of course that has not addressed all complaints received from the local candidates, nor excluded all of the fraudulent votes, and it is left to see how the MPs from Farah will fare in the new parliament, provided we will have one. But think for a moment, what fine elections could take place in Afghanistan with more plain decisions and less political machinations.

(*) It is also controversial. Peripheral districts sharing a problematic situation experienced a very different percentage of invalidations by the two electoral commissions. Shindand saw 25 disqualified PCs out of a total of 57 opened, and thus the most populous district in the province after Herat city has been left without representatives in the Wolesi Jirga; Kohsan similarly had 6 out of 17 declared invalid; but Pashtun Zarghun miraculously kept its 30 PCs safe from closure or invalidation.

(**) It is interesting how the Afghan Mellat candidate and Ismail Khan’s diehard teamed up on Wednesday for a joint protest against the local electoral commissions.

(***) If we want to name male exceptions, two could be called former MP Ahmad Behzad and Rafiq Shahir, already head of the Professional Shura and an active and skilled politician. Both were in the target list over the telephone, and Ahmad Behzad’s mention actually prompted a burst of laughter in the IEC employee, who assured Ismail Khan that Behzad was already in the President’s own black list.

 

Annex:

Following is the list of names mentioned in the telephone call allegedly between Ismail Khan and an IEC employee. Do note that the presence of a name among Ismail Khan’s favorites does not imply a political closeness, but can signify IK’s acceptance of major trends in the elections that need not be countered. Occasional comments from the recording are in brackets, the IEC employee is marked just as ‘IEC’. Candidates appearing in the final list of winners released on 24 November are in bold.

IK’s favourites:

1) Nisar Ahmad Faizi Ghoriani: He was the leading candidate in the preliminary results (17,906 votes), disqualified on 2 November. Owner of Liberty Corporation, very close to IK.
2) Muhammad Musa Reza’i (4,805 votes): Hezb-e Wahdat’s official candidate, allegations of Iranian support.
3) Farhad Majidi: Among the winning candidates since the preliminary results, 7,005 votes, company owner, close to the Herat Ulema Council.
4) Rahima Jami: Former MP, was among the winning candidates (3,290 votes), disqualified on 20 November. A campaigner for President Karzai last year, she is said to be close to Afghan Mellat party, but shortly before the elections she was unofficially endorsed by IK.
5) Aref Tayyeb: Former MP, he is among the winning candidates since the disqualification of Ghoriani (6,106 votes).
6) Khalil Ahmad Shahidzada: Among the winning candidates since the preliminary results (6,048 votes). A popular religious preacher, he was believed to have few chances before the election.
7) Massuda Karokhi: Among the winning candidates since the preliminary results (2,092 votes).
8) Faruq Nazeri: Among the winning candidates since the preliminary results (7,346 votes). A former wrestler close to IK, he had votes invalidated in Keshk-e Kohna district.
9) Muhammad Saleh Seljuqi: Former MP, among the winning candidates since the 20 November disqualifications (5,577 votes). Allegations of Iranian support (in the tape, IEC complains it is a problem to help him because he has too few votes).
10) Halim Taraki: He was disqualified on 13 October (1,437 votes on 4 October). Brother of the mayor of Herat city, businessman (Negin electric company, poultry & land), previous allegations of links with armed groups (in the tape, IEC says it is a problem to help him for he has no votes).
11) Najla Dehqan-Nejad: Former MP, among the winning candidates since the preliminary results (2,041 votes), highly educated woman, believed to have good chances before the elections.
12) Sayyed Shafiq – Former MP, would have been winning after 20 November if not disqualified himself (5,536 votes), apparently had good chances before the elections.
13) Abdul Hadi Jamshedi: Former MP, among the winning candidates since the disqualification of Akbar. His brother was killed while campaigning for him in Keshk-e Robat Sangi district in late August.
14) Sharif Azim (2,261 votes): Returned German citizen from a prominent Herati family, presides the Shura-e Hamgaran (alias Shura-e Tajikho, Tajik Council), which is loosely aligned with IK. He was reported to have few chances before the elections (in the tape, IK asks if he has votes, in case he had it would be good to have him in).
15) Nahid Ahmadi-Farid: Among the winning candidates since the preliminary results (4,042 votes). A young and highly educated woman, reportedly among the favourites before the elections.
16) Mawlawi Abdul Ghani (1588 votes): A religious cleric.
17) Omar Samim (3,093 votes): A long-serving doctor in Herat hospitals.
18) Ghulam Nabi Karimi Baluch (5,323 votes): A religious cleric and former provincial council member.
19) Kamaluddin Arab (2,004 votes): A commander facing allegations of having links with armed groups.
20) Sa’adat Fatehi (1335 votes): A former MP, reportedly she did not have many chances before the elections (in the tape, IEC says they will try and help her if she has some votes to start with).

IK’s enemies & neutrals:

1) Ghulam Qader Akbar: Among the winning candidates until disqualified on 2 November (6,099 votes). A former director of the Trade Department, previously allied with IK, and a wealthy businessman (in the tape, he is laughed upon; IEC mentions him before IK even speaks as if it was the bitterest enemy to IK – he is also apparently the one who got the recording and circulated it in early November).
2) Reza Khushak Watandost: Among the winning candidates since the preliminary results (6,961 votes). Wealthy businessman.
3) Aziz Nadem: Former MP, among the winning candidates until disqualified on 20 November (6,131 votes). Formerly Hezb-e Islami but now close toAfghan Mellat.
4) Mo’allem Hafizullah (1,270 votes): Close to the Afzali family faction ofJamiat-e Islami (in the tape, IEC says he has no vote anyway so IK need not worry).
5) Rafiq Shahir: Among the winning candidates since the 20 November disqualifications (5,347 votes). Formerly head of the Professional Shura, a civil society organization, and a known adversary of IK in the 2005 parliamentary election when he was harassed. He reportedly made some sort of peace with IK before the elections (in the tape, he is referred to as somebody to exclude, anyway).
6) Haji Daud Nurzai (3,913 votes).
7) Nasser Atta’i (5153 votes): A former Meshrano Jirga member, highly educated jurist.
8) Hojjat-al-Islam Ghulam Sakhi Mesbah (453 votes): A Shi’a religious cleric (in the tape, IEC says he has no votes anyway).
9) Agha Malang Borani (4309 votes): A former provincial council member. (In the tape, IEC says he has no votes so IK should not worry about him).
10) Aziza Maheki (1197 votes): Reportedly close to Afghan Mellat party (in the tape, IEC says she is unknown anyway, she has no votes).
11) Ahmad Ali Jebraili (4,930 votes): former MP.
12) Faruq Majruh: Among the winning candidates since the preliminary results (9,524 votes). Especially popular among the low strata of population, close to the Afzali family faction of Jamiat-e Islami (in the tape, IK first states he is a good man, then asks if he has votes, adding that in case he does not have votes, well, he is not a good man anyway).
13) Qazi Ahmad Hanifi: Former MP, among the winning candidates since the preliminary results (8,716 votes). A religious cleric (in the tape, IK only asks about his votes).
14) Ahmad Behzad: Former MP, among the winning candidates since the preliminary results (7,733 votes). Formerly an outspoken journalist and social activist, seen as an ally of Dr Abdullah (in the tape, IEC laughs at his mention and says that he is also on the President’s black list).
15) Monawar Shah Bahadur: Among the winning candidates since the 20 November disqualifications (5,430 votes). He is the owner of Pamir Cola company (in the tape, IK says he is okay).
16) Ma’aruf Fazli: Among the winning candidates until disqualified on 20 November (7,789 votes). An Afghan Mellat party member (in the tape, IK says he is okay, and both he and IEC comment that Fazli is a very close friend to Jilani Popal, the head of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance).

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape