Political Landscape

Elections 2014 (24): The IECC’s performance addressing provincial council complaints


One of six open IECC sessions, handling complaints regarding the provincial council election. Photo: Tolo News

While most observers are focused on the upcoming second round of the presidential election, the process surrounding the provincial council vote is still ongoing. The Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) finished its open sessions last week and, in response to allegations of manipulation by IEC staff, ordered a widespread recount of votes, which had already started. The Independent Election Commission (IEC), however, has now stopped the process, arguing that its staff cannot handle two large tasks at once: recounting votes from a first round, while simultaneously preparing for a second. This does not only mean that the provincial council results will be significantly delayed, but also that the findings of the recounts will not inform the second round of the presidential elections. Initial information from the provinces suggests that in many cases the results on the IEC website did indeed not match what was found in the ballot boxes and that the problem seems to have been fairly widespread. AAN’s Qayum Suroush and Martine van Bijlert report on how the IECC handled the provincial council complaints.

On 31 May 2014, the Independent Election Complaints Commission (IECC) of Afghanistan started its second series of open sessions, this time to address the electoral complaints on the provincial council vote (read AAN’s report of the open sessions for the presidential vote here). The sessions lasted six days and covered around 3,000 complaints, requesting from the IEC a series of recounts in provinces. (1) The last of the sessions took place on Thursday, 5 June, well after the date the IECC had planned to have passed on its findings to the IEC (the electoral timeline can be found here). Since then, the IEC has stopped the recount process. Initially, the IECC had planned to take at least another week to make its final decision, which was then supposed to be sent to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) for the announcement of the final provincial council result. On Saturday, 8 June, however, Zia Ammarkhel, the head of the IEC secretariat, explained during a meeting with election observers that he and his colleagues had asked the IECC not to request anymore provincial recounts from IEC staff, as it was too difficult to do two jobs at once. Around noon of the next day, Sunday, 9 June, IECC spokesman Nader Mohseni published a message on his public Facebook page saying that “the IEC has stopped the recount process of the provincial council votes in the provinces.“ The tone of his message suggests that the two commissions did not see eye to eye on this:

Considering the significant changes that IEC staff has caused in the results of the provincial council candidates and [the fact] that recounts in all provinces have shown manipulation, the IEC’s order to its provincial offices to stop the recounts is questionable. Any consequences of this [decision] will be the responsibility of the IEC.

Proceedings of the IECC open sessions

To deal with the large number of the complaints, the IECC had divided the 34 provinces of Afghanistan into six zones and addressed each zone in one of the six open sessions’ days – like it did during the presidential election complaints sessions. (2) In each zone, the complaints were addressed per province. Again, the commissioners only handled complaints large enough to potentially change results, the so-called category A complaints. Category B and C complaints were not dealt with.

First, the IECC commissioners looked at complaints regarding the preliminary results as announced by the IEC on 20 May 2014. However, after the first day the IECC tried to speed up and simplify the process. IECC spokesman Mohseni told reporters that because most complaints were the same and because it would be impossible to address around 3,000 complaints in such a short time, the IECC would instead ask for, and accept, suggestions from the complaining candidates for recounts. Sattar Saadat, head of the IECC, however emphasised that “since we have the second round ahead, we do not have time to recount whole provinces” – as this was initially the demand in most provinces.

Before the sessions started, the IECC staff gathered the complainants who were present and asked them to nominate two representatives and to prepare a list of polling centres that, according to them, needed to be recounted. In most cases, commissioners and protesting candidates struggled over this for some time. Candidates or their representatives would usually ask for full provincial recounts, while the IECC commissioners tried to convince them that it was impossible to do so. For some provinces a fixed maximum was given; for Kandahar, the IECC said that it could recount up to 150 polling centres and for Herat 50. For Kabul, where protesting provincial candidates have pitched a tent at Park-e Shahr-e Naw to maintain a protest ‘sit-in’, the IECC said it was ready to recount up to 80 per cent of the polling centres. These limits seemed mainly based on how forcefully the candidates had protested rather than on an investigation or assessment of how widespread the problem had been in that particular area.

Those candidates who accepted to prepare a more limited list of polling centres for recount, were given one hour to prepare the list. Upon receiving it, the IECC commissioners, without discussing any further details, promised the recounts and moved on to the next province. In the end, the complaints of most provinces (except for those from Kandahar, Badakhshan, Takhar, Baghlan, and Uruzgan, whose candidates had not accepted the cutting short of the process) were addressed like this. Consequently, no details of the complaints from those provinces were discussed in the session. They are also not yet available on the IECC website. This means we do not know how serious they are or what the evidence is.

Where the candidates had not accepted the suggestion to simply agree on a limited polling centres recount, the IECC commissioners read the names of all the complainants of that particular province (usually a provincial candidate or her/his agent). Those who were present were then given two minutes to explain and defend their complaints. During this two-minute presentation, the candidates had to show proof (in most cases copies of result forms) and answer the IECC’s questions. Regardless of how many complaints they had registered, the IECC gave each complainant only one chance to defend and explain them all at once, promising to take the proof presented into account while taking its decision. Many candidates argued that this was not enough time to properly deal with their complaints.

The IECC did not discuss complaints by those who were not present. Therefore, only a relatively small number of the complaints were discussed at all. Answering to this concern, Nadir Mohseni, the IECC spokesman, said that the IECC assumed that those who had not shown up for the sessions, probably either did not have proof for their claims or had given up on their right. For example, while the IECC had registered 63 complaints in Baghlan, only around 20 of them were discussed in the session. The rest were not discussed, either because those complaints were from a candidate who had already used his or her two minutes up on other complaints and couldn’t squeeze in more or because the complaining candidates were not present. This left the majority of the complaints – even in the provinces that had not accepted the limited polling centre recount – unaddressed.

After looking at the complaints against the posted results, the IECC commissioners also handled complaints regarding what had happened on election day. These complaints mostly alleged that IEC district field coordinators (DFCs) or other candidates (or their relatives) had not allowed observers into the polling centres or had moved ballot boxes to other locations where they could not be monitored. Here, the commissioners were just reading the accused persons’ names out loud to determine if the accused person was in the hall. The IECC would give him or her five minutes, at most, to defend him- or herself against the accusations. However, only in very rare cases the accused were in the hall, in all other cases the IECC moved to the next complaint without further discussion. The reading of these election day related complaints only happened on the first day and for Takhar and Badakhshan on the second day. In the other sessions, no election day complaints were discussed.

It is not likely that the intransparent ways of the IECC will change much for the second round. During a IECC meeting on Saturday, 8 June 2014, held in order to explain the complaints procedures for the second round, Wali Akbar Sarwari, IECC deputy and in charge of technical issues, did say that there had been a few weaknesses that the IECC was fixing, but he did not provide any details on either the problems or their solutions. Candidate requests to be given more time to register complaints were met by the reply that the IECC itself was given too little time to be able to do that.

Votes changed by the IEC?

During all six days of the open session, almost all the complaints surrounding the final preliminary results were lodged against the IEC, alleging that vote counts had been changed. Many of the complaining provincial council candidates claimed that the IEC had changed the result forms and that the forms that were uploaded on the IEC results website were not the same as the ones they had received copies of at the polling stations on election day. They claimed that their votes, as a result, had decreased significantly. (3) Most complaining candidates presented original carbon copies of the polling day count forms as proof and demanded a full recount of the votes in their province.

To complicate the matter, the IECC had already engaged in recounts prior to the sessions. Protesting candidates from Takhar told the open session that days after the announcement of the preliminary results, they had reached an agreement with the provincial IECC (PIECC) that it would recount 20 polling stations and if there were discrepancies, the IECC would recount the whole province. The candidates showed a letter with IECC’s stamp confirming that during the recount process the IECC had indeed found a significant number of votes different from what had been uploaded to the IEC website. (4)

The newly ordered recounts, based on the lists presented at the open sessions, had in the meantime started, too, and initial reports, from for instance Baghlan, indicated that the findings were similar to what was earlier uncovered in Takhar. A high ranking staff member of IECC’s legal department told AAN that most of the provincial candidates’ complaints were well documented and likely to affect the final results.

A point that still needs to be clarified is the claim of most complaining candidates that the scanned forms on the IEC website are not only different from what is found during the recount, but also from the carbon copies they received on election day. During the sessions AAN was able to check a couple of the claimed discrepancies, comparing the copies of the result forms handed to observers with the scanned forms on the IEC website – the candidates’ claims indeed seemed to be correct.

Complaints against the IEC: corruption reports

In addition to the complaints focusing on the count and data entry, there were also complaints against IEC staff asking for bribes. Hasibullah Yaftali, a candidate from Takhar, said he had received phone calls from IEC staff who were asking up to 10,000 Dollars to include him in the list of winners. AAN was also told by several candidates that in Baghlan the price, payable to IEC staff, for a provincial council membership started from 15,000 Dollars and went up to 30,000 Dollars. Similar complaints were presented at the session from Kabul, Logar and Panjshir. Sayed Habibullah Saadat, a candidate from Logar said he received many phone calls from a DFC who was asking for 3,000 Dollars for providing 3,000 votes. Saadat said that he complained to the PIECC and when they asked for proof he called the DFC and put the phone on loudspeaker so that the PIECC commissioners could listen in. The DFC confirmed the offer. These complaints echo reports from previous elections.

Finally, there were also complaints against IEC district field coordinators (DFCs) alleging that they had not allowed observers into polling stations, used fake voting cards to vote for certain candidates, transported ballot boxes to other location where there were no observers and bullied the observers who were present. Many candidates from Baghlan said in the open session that the DFCs (they may have meant the polling station managers) did not give them a copy of the result form and generally acted more like qomandans (commanders) than facilitating staff that was supposed to help the voters and observers. (5)

Implications

During this round of open sessions, as opposed to the presidential once, everyone except the protesting candidates seemed tired and keen to ‘get it over with.’ Many journalists drank tea and chatted with each other while the process was going on and many left as soon as they had been given lunch. The commissioners seemed continuously eager to move on to the next complaint, the next province, the next zone and to announce the end of the session without much discussion on the complaints.

Moreover, there was – again – no representative from the IEC who could defend the preliminary results or explain, for instance, the discrepancies between the copies of the result forms and the scanned result forms uploaded to the IEC website. Since it is unlikely that the IECC will discuss individual complaints with the IEC or ask the IEC for further explanations before it takes its final decision, it seems that the IECC will base its decisions on a fairly random recount, rather than an understanding of what happened between the count at the polling station and the posting of the result forms.

The unaddressed issues that were raised in the provincial council complaints process are relevant far beyond the provincial council results. The consistency in the complaints suggests that considerable manipulation has taken place before or during data entry. If proven correct, it means that the IEC data-entry process is not fool-proof at all, which has obvious implications for the upcoming second round of the presidential vote.

But even if it is only a perception that the votes have been illegally altered after the local count – the complaints may emanate from a misunderstanding of procedures by the candidates or the discrepancies may be based on undeclared recounts (which in itself would be a problem) – it undermines the likelihood that the results will be acceptable.

The IECC’s complaints adjudication has focused on giving complainants an opportunity to be heard. It has, however, refrained from assessing the validity of the complaints or the pervasiveness of the alleged problems. This means we are going into a second round without knowing what happens to the votes between the local count and the posting of results on the website. This is amplified by the fact that it seems that the provincial council recounts will be delayed until after the presidential vote has been finalised.

 

(1) The complaints included 1283 category A complaints that were registered on or just after election day and 1635 complaints against the preliminary results. See here for the overall complaints statistics, here for complaints aganst the preliminary results and here and here for more background (in Dari).

(2) The first session on 31 May 2014 covered Balkh, Faryab, Jowzjan, Samangan and Sar-e Pul. The second session on 1 June 2014 discussed Badakhshan, Takhar, Baghlan and Kunduz; the third session on 2 June 2014 covered complaints from Kandahar, Ghor, Zabul, and Uruzgan; the fourth session on 3 June 2014 covered Herat, Badghis, Nimruz, Farah and Helmand; the fifth session on 4 June 2014 covered Nangarhar, Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Kunar, Laghman and Nuristan; and finally the last open session on 5 June 2014 covered Parwan, Kabul, Bamyan, Logar, Daikundi, Kapisa, Wardak, Panjshir and Ghazni.

(3) For example, in the second open session, Sabera Saba Alamyar, a provincial candidate in Badakhshan, said that her votes had decreased from around 4,000 to 2,563 without explanation. Another Badakhshan candidate, Kabir Ahmad, said his votes decreased from around 6,000 to around 4,000. Adela Amini from Baghlan said her votes decreased from 3221 to 1245. Jahanger Jawan said his votes decreased from around 4,000 to 2826. She argued that she lost her trust in the IEC. In Ghor, Angela Sharifi said her votes decreased from around 1,000 to 91 votes. Haji Mohammad Kabir said his votes decreased from 7786 to 4331. From Farah, there was only one complainant in the hall, Shirin, who said that she had had 2800 votes, but that the IEC announced only 1,500. She said that in five districts of Farah her votes had not been counted.

(4) For example, according to the letter (that AAN saw), at the fourth polling station of Samandab High School polling centre in Chal district (1805079), Abdul Satar Serat had 279 votes according to the scanned result form uploaded by the IEC (see here, candidate number 9). However, during the recount process, the IECC found only one vote for him. In the same polling station, Mawlawi Abdul Aziz Sharafat had 209 votes in the scanned results form, while in the recount process he had 406 votes.

(5) Although most complainants addressed their complaints against the DFCs, it is likely that the actual culprits – provided that the complaints were justified – were the polling station managers and other staff as they were the ones who were continuously on the site.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape