Political Landscape

Elections (40): The IECC open sessions on election day complaints


IECC open session on 6 July. Photo: Tolo News

Earlier this month, while the IEC was busy deciding whether to announce the highly controversial preliminary results or not, the IECC embarked on its third round of complaints adjudication. The first two rounds – first round presidential and the, now paused, provincial council hearings – had already been a rushed and largely formalistic affair. This time was even more so, despite the seriousness of the allegations and the ensuing controversy. AAN’s Qayoum Suroush describes the latest round of hearings and wonders what it might mean for the IECC’s role during the current massive audit.

The Independent Election Complaints Commission (IECC) held its open sessions from 6 to 9 July 2014 to address the complaints related to the runoff’s Election Day. The IECC received a total of 2576 complaints from both sides, the teams of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, and from across the country alleging irregularities and fraud (see here for statistics and here for detailed cases and the number of complaint in each zone and province).

The most common types of complaints included: not allowing observers to enter the polling stations, ballot stuffing by IEC staff, campaigning on the election day, local powerbrokers bullying voters, misusing governmental facilities in favour of one candidate, and changing the location of polling stations.(3) Unlike after the first round, when the Ghani team had registered very few complaints, this time it submitted as many complaints as Abdullah did — if not more (though the exact number of complaints for each candidate was not announced). Overall, the proof provided by the teams was again lacking in many cases. As a result, those complaints were ignored at the provincial level. (The IECC’s internal procedures stipulate that the primary institution for addressing election complaints is its provincial offices, so complaints are first addressed there; some of the provincial IECC’s decisions can be found here.) Overall, the provincial IECCs decided to invalidate votes in 61 cases, but it is still unclear how many votes would be affected (see here).

The Abdullah team had in the meantime withdrawn from the process, alleging “widespread fraud” by the IEC and the IECC, and had sent a letter stating that since the complaints had been addressed in the absence of their observers, they did not accept any of the provincial IECC decisions. The IECC central office counted the letter as a general appeal against all decisions taken by the PIECCS on election day complaints (see here for the news) and decided to review all complaints again. They did so, however, again in the absence of the Abdullah observers. Holding the appeal sessions at a time when Abdullah had still cut all ties to the electoral bodies and some of his camp were even threating to set up a “parallel government” was highly problematic, as it meant that only one side of the complainants was represented at the open sessions.

This apparently also split the IECC commissioners. Commissioner Nadir Mohseni did not attend the three first open sessions, (1) while his colleague Azizullah Aryafar absented himself from all four sessions. In a post on his Facebook page Aryafar argued that, based on the IECC procedures, the absence of two commissioners and one of the complainants meant that the open sessions were  “meaningless and do not have any legal and lawful standing.”

On the other hand, IECC deputy chairperson Reda Azimi insisted in the very first open session on 6 July that “if one of the candidates withdraws from the complaint addressing process, it does not mean the IECC has been paralysed. Rather, from today on, if the candidates’ representatives do not attend, we take that as a withdrawal from the complaint addressing process; and we will continue our sessions with or without them.”

Addressing the complaints

During the open sessions, the IECC commissioners adopted the same, rushed procedure as after the first presidential round and in the (still pending) provincial council elections (our takes on this here and here). They read the cases they considered relevant province by province, (2) before giving the team’s representatives the chance to defend themselves against the accusations or to challenge the provincial-level IECC decisions they were appealing. Then the IECC promised to consider those comments when taking their final decisions. Like in the previous rounds, the IECC did not decide any cases in the open sessions. They said the appealers would be informed about the decisions through public media. Since the Abdullah team was boycotting the procedure, this approach only gave the Ghani team to chance to defend itself or to explain their appeals, which made the exercise look like a formality and a very one-sided one.

It is unclear what will happen to this round of the complaints process, after an agreement was reached to do a full audit of the 14 June vote. It is for instance not clear what will happen to Abdullah’s  complaints, now that he has rejoined the process, or whether the IECC will still take decisions on the complaints that were discussed during the open sessions. There are also new complaints – according to IECC spokesman Nadir Mohseni, the Ghani team registered 376 complaints against the announced preliminary result (the Abdullah team was still boycotting the process) – which may well have become void now that the full results are being audited. The only decisions of the IECC that might be still valid are those not dealing with election results: decisions involving fines, the firing of IEC staff and introducing the cases to the police or the Attorney General for more investigations.

There is also no full clarity on the role of the IECC in the audit. Abdullah’s camp has been highly critical of a continued central role for both the IEC and the IECC, insisting that the process be coordinated, or at least overseen, by the UN and other international observers.  The only published record of a possible IECC role seems to be on the IEC website where it states that:

The IEC will publish audit findings regularly and throughout the duration of the exercise. According to the Afghan Electoral Law, either candidate or any of their agents may lodge an official complaint within 24 hours of the publication of an audit decision by the IEC; and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission is required to adjudicate that complaint within 48 hours of receipt.

Walid Akbar Sarwari, the technical deputy to the IECC, confirmed this procedure to AAN, saying that at the end of each day after the IEC decides about the day’s audit results, both teams have 24 hours to register complaints, which will be adjudicated by the IECC and sent back to the IEC within 48 hours. So, at the end of the process when the IEC announces the final result, they should have already received and incorporated all the IECC decisions on the complaints.

It is, however, unclear how the IECC will now play this role. Considering that the open sessions of the IECC so far have been largely pointless, even before they were bypassed by the agreement to re-audit all votes, illustrates how the commission was content to play only a very formalistic role. It is to be hoped that they will be able to rise to the challenge of delivering a proper complaints adjudication role in the coming audit – as this one cannot fail.

 

(1) Quite interestingly, before the third open session on 8 July 2014, Nadir Mohseni held a press conference where he encouraged the two presidential candidates to submit their complaints against the preliminary result, but he did not attend the subsequent open session. When Mohseni was asked about his absence, he replied that when he was appointed to the commission he had promised to defend the law and that he now considers this in his every decision. However, he did show up in the last open session on 9 July, without any explanation for his absence in the previous sessions, or for his presence in the last one.

(2) The IECC was dealing only with those complaints they thought were serious and had sufficient proof against them, they did not address the remaining ones that they considered ineligible. To understand how the IECC rushed through the complaints, consider that it addressed 911 complaints from 13 provinces in their last open session on 9 July alone, within an hour and a half (the session started at 10:15 am and finished at 11:45). This is an average of 6 seconds per complaint. As another example, from Kabul province the IECC had registered 516 complaints, but in the session they only dealt with around 20 of them; Reda Azimi said the rest was “unhearable”.

(3) In an interesting case, there was a complaint in Helmand, polling centre #3040076, alleging that a woman was doing three jobs at the same time: head of the polling centre, FEFA observer and candidate agent for Abdullah.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape