Afghanistan Analysts Network – English


Thematic Dossier III: What Past Elections Teach Us

Martine van Bijlert 12 min

Afghanistan is getting ready for its fifth election in ten years. For those who have gone through the previous rounds there is an immense sense of déjà vu. So before embarking on a new round of intense reporting, we decided to look back at the work already done – most of which is as relevant now, as when it was first written. 

Ballot box in one of Pul-e Charkhi's polling stations in the outskirts of Kabul. Photo: Martine van Bijlert. The area had been famous in the 2009 election for having already-filled ballot boxes before polling opened on election day in some of its polling stations.

Since its establishment in 2009, AAN has written over 150 dispatches following the electoral twists and turns, and describing what this looked like in all parts of the country. It has also released four major electoral reports, which – read together – give an excellent overview of what elections look like, how they have evolved and what to expect.

The short conclusion on what the elections will look like, based on previous reporting: the crude attempts at manipulation and fraud have persisted, while the more sophisticated attempts now increasingly target the central count and disqualification process; the absence of a clear arbitrator in the face of a contested outcome will lead to protracted wrangling and improvised solutions. For more details see this companion dispatch.

To facilitate easy access to our resources, we have put together our third Thematic Dossier (the earlier ones, on the transition process and football in Afghanistan, can be found here and here). The text below includes a small selection of AAN’s reporting, a full overview can be found here, while a slightly shortened list has been uploaded here.

The abbreviated list on this page includes the four major election reports and selected past reporting on the 2010 parliamentary election, the 2009 presidential election and the 2009 provincial council election. Specific reporting from the provinces can be found in the longer lists. The full list is worth your time, even if you only read the titles, which read together give a good sense of how crude, absurd and protracted the process can get.



For the full list of all AAN’s electoral reporting, see here.

A slightly more condensed list can be found here.


How to Win an Afghan Election, Perceptions and Practices

Martine van Bijlert, 11 August 2009

In this report the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) holds the magnifying glass to the Afghan elections, exploring the impact of high-level deals, local-level decision-making processes, and electoral manipulation. The author, Martine van Bijlert, used her extensive in-country experience, contacts and language skills to provide a detailed analysis of the deal-making and politicking that underlie the current elections, arguing that the analysis of political dynamics is key to understanding the wider process of democratisation and institution building in Afghanistan.


Polling Day Fraud in the Afghan Elections

Martine van Bijlert, 8 September 2009

Journalists, observers and diplomats have caught on to the fact that all was not well with last month’s Afghan elections, but it is not always clear what exactly happened and why that is a problem. This briefing paper gives an overview of the various forms of irregularities that took place on polling day. It distinguishes between local initiatives, semi-organised fraud and highly organised manipulations. The paper argues that whatever the outcome of the elections, it should not be seen to disproportionally reward those that have discredited the process.


Who Controls the Vote? Afghanistan’s Evolving Elections

Martine van Bijlert, 15 September 2010

AAN’s latest report, by Martine van Bijlert, provides the first in-depth analysis of the 2009 provincial council elections and presents important clues on what the parliamentary vote on 18 September will look like. It argues that, contrary to what some internationals hope, the upcoming vote will again be messy, fiercely contested and manipulated at all levels.


Untangling Afghanistan’s 2010 Vote: Analysing the electoral data

Martine van Bijlert, 19 February 2011

This new briefing paper by Martine van Bijlert provides a backdrop to the controversies surrounding the 2010 parliamentary vote. It presents an overview of the main publicly available electoral data and maps what information has been provided, what conclusions can be drawn and what information is still missing – either because it was not shared or because it is not known.



For the full list of all AAN’s electoral reporting, see here.

A slightly more condensed list can be found here.


Dancing to Power: Getting an Afghan presidential ticket together

Kate Clark and Gran Hewad, 30 September 2013

With less than a week to go before the deadline for registering the three-person tickets for next April’s presidential elections, still no major candidate has registered. Leaving it this late was only to be expected in a system without real parties or fixed political formations or indeed much ideology or policy proposals. Instead, potential presidents and vice presidents, their supporters and those with vote banks to offer are trying to coax, convince and find the perfect match to maximise their electoral chances.




Election Stalemate and the Revival of Old Fault Lines

Martine van Bijlert, 23 December 2010

To all those who have lost track of what’s going on with the Afghan Parliamentary elections: don’t feel too bad. It has become very difficult to follow, even for those of us who really try – not just in terms of who is pushing for what and what that may result in, but also in terms of how deep the crisis is. The question underlying the bickering is whether this will ultimately fizzle out and blow over, or whether it will develop into a full-blown (although possibly very slow) collapse of the Afghanistan as we have come to know it.


2010 Elections (34): Glossing over and moving on

Martine van Bijlert, 26 November 2010

Yesterday, on 24 November, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the final results for all but one of the Parliament’s constituencies. The UN and US were quick to welcome the move, having been desperate to do so for weeks. The message is clear and is by now a familiar one: ‘The process was messy, it has been dealt with, everybody move along now, there is nothing to see here.’(*) But the mess has not been dealt with and the worst thing to do now is to pretend that we do not have a problem.


2010 Elections (28): Sacrifing the vote for a semblance of control

Martine van Bijlert, 25 October 2010

Most international supporters had reached an early conclusion that whatever happened in the field, the IEC in Kabul did their job well – guarding the process and maintaining a level of independence and transparency. Candidates and voters strongly disagree and are venting suspicions of manipulation and foul play up to the highest level. The results data gives important clues on how the IEC functioned and where this election is heading.


AAN Guest blog: Making Elections Count

William Maley, 20 October 2010

Afghanistan’s elections have been spectacularly problematic. Only hours before the announcement of this year’s preliminary results, Professor William Maley explores the different ways in which electoral processes can be viewed – as theatre, a way to change power without bloodshed, or a means of renegotiating power relations. He discusses the corrosive impact of widspread fraud and explores how we can make Afghanistan’s elections count.


2010 Elections (26): The IEC between pressure and scrutiny

Martine van Bijlert, 17 October 2010

The email was sent around today, not long before the planned press conference and not long after an earlier message had announced a delay. “Dear All: The IEC is intent to be more precise in announcement of WJ Elections results, therefore kindly be informed that IEC press conference for announcement of WJ preliminary results [is] cancelled, hopefully IEC will conduct the conference on Wednesday 20 October 2010 10:00 am.”


2010 Elections (9): So how did the elections go?

Martine van Bijlert, 19 September 2010

Like others we have been fielding questions all day on how yesterday’s elections went. And we’ve been saying the same thing in all its variations: it’s too early to tell. It will take several days for the initial reports and impressions to settle. It will take a bit longer to filter out the distortions. Then we will have a fair picture of the impact of violence and how bad the situation was in terms of manipulation and fraud. By that time the turnout figure, in terms of actual numbers, should have also stabilised.


2010 Elections (8): Let’s talk turnout

Martine van Bijlert, 19 September 2010

The IEC has released a figure for the indicative turnout of yesterday’s poll (40%). It is now being widely repeated and compared to other figures, including previous elections and turnout percentages in our home countries. It happens so often. For some reason nobody finds it necessary to understand where these random figures come from and what they mean. For some reason nobody finds it necessary to ask: 40% of what?


2010 Elections (6): All Together Now: ‘This Is Not Switzerland’

Thomas Ruttig, 18 September 2010

This blog entry discusses the often heard proposition that ‘Afghanistan is not Switzerland’ and why it does not make sense when it comes to tomorrow’s parliamentary elections in Afghanistan. It argues that elections of a much better quality were indeed possible and recalls how this chance was squandered, by not implementing electoral reform as suggested in various reports since the 2004/05 election cycle. And that this neglect today reflects the fact that the West has already withdrawn mentally, if not militarily yet. from Afghanistan.


2010 Elections (3): Two totally different worlds

Martine van Bijlert, 16 September 2010

As the country gets ready for the elections, the discussions – as usual – focus on security and fraud. There seem to be two worlds. One is the world of procedures, barcodes, scanners and tamper-evident bags. Of recruitment criteria, complaints forms, female searchers and police contingents. Of confident reassurances that everything is under control. The other is the world of rumours, threats, money and power. Of disillusioned voters, scheming candidates, interfering government officials and threats of targeted attacks. The two worlds don’t seem to meet.


2010 Elections (1): Facts and Figures

Fabrizio Foschini, 13 September 2010

With less than a week left before 18 September, we would like to summarize the major facts and figures that relate to the upcoming parliamentary election.


Guest Blog: Why the West should care about Afghan election fraud

Scott Worden, 7 September 2010

There is a strange detachment of international actors in Kabul when it comes to the parliamentary elections here in just under two weeks’ time. Our guest author Scott Worden calls it a ‘see no evil, speak no evil’ approach. He asks what the consequences of another flawed election will be and advocates a ‘strict scrutiny of the process by both domestic and international observes, backed by international support for a fair and transparent complaints process’ to avoid the worst-case scenarios. Unfortunately, with only very small EU and OSCE missions with a downgraded mandate (they are no ‘observers’), it doesn’t seem likely to happen.


Campaign Trail (4): Candidates and Campaigning

Gran Hewad, 16 August 2010

At a time when two candidates for parliamentary elections have been killed, three kidnapped, at least ten issued with death threats and 48 excluded from the final list, the surviving candidates are campaigning hard. This is often a multi-goal struggle: to become a representative of the people, to get publicized via their candidacy, to be posting banners and posters on the walls, to pursue competition between cousins, to be seen on TV, to follow up a family tradition and respect their fathers’ souls and so on and so forth. AAN is interviewing candidates – about three dozen so far – from across the country and our political researcher, Gran Hewad, has been getting his teeth into their various campaign strategies.


An Update on Voter Registration

Fabrizio Foschini, 15 August 2010

Last Thursday, August 12, saw the conclusion of yet another stage on the road to the elections of 18 September. Making sure all those eligible to vote get their voter cards (and one card per voter only) is clearly a major part of any free and fair election. But in what has become something of a habit, the two-month long period designated for the registration of voters and the distribution of voting cards ended in polemics and accusations. AAN analyst Fabrizio Foschini tries to summarize the major features of this process.


The Alchemy of Vetting

Fabrizio Foschini and Gran Hewad, 16 July 2010

The vetting process on parliamentary candidates that was concluded on July 6 has resulted in the exclusion of 36 candidates for alleged links with armed groups, and a remarkable amount of confusion and doubt among those who tried to follow the process closely. There has been a consistent and intentional lack of transparency on where and how decisions were made, and many of the excluded candidates seem to have been randomly picked in an attempt to bolster numbers. Vetting for armed groups has been controversial in all elections, but this looks like it may well have been the worst vetting process so far. AAN researchers Fabrizio Foschini and Gran Hewad try to give a fairly precise account of what has become a very murky process indeed.




AAN Election Blog 36: The next chapter of the conclusion

Martine van Bijlert, 20 October 2009

The ECC has released its decisions and in doing so has laid to rest the doubts or speculations that they may bend under pressure to fudge or withhold. A scroll through the well documented findings confirms the widespread reports of fraud and provides a fascinating read of what the elections must have looked like in the places where authorities, election officials, local strongmen or independent entrepreneurs conspired to fix the outcome of the vote.


AAN Election Blog 33: So what do we do with the audit?

Martine van Bijlert, 10 October 2009

The audit has come to an end. So now… proportion… sample… fraudulent… calculate… disqualify… certify… And then we will have a result. And I am sorry for everybody who is feeling almost relieved, but I really need to say this:


AAN Guest Blog: Anti-fraud measures in the Afghan elections

ARGO, 8 October 2009

The procedures to cope with the electoral fraud in Afghanistan become more and more complicated, as is the relationship between the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). The following guest blog authored by our partners from ARGO in Italy bring light into the affair.


AAN Election Blog No. 31: We have a result – sort of – and some very frayed relations.

Martine van Bijlert, 17 September 2009

Suddenly there it was: the final announcement of the preliminary results of the Afghan Presidential election. The event itself was a bit of an anticlimax, but the announcement means that there is one thing less to wait for, although the wait is by no means over. It means that the focus has shifted and that all eyes are now on the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). It also means that the problem has shifted: it is no longer fraud, but a system that does not deal with fraud.


AAN Election Blog No. 30: Which votes are to be counted – a crucial battle

Martine van Bijlert, 8 September 2009

As the press continued to recount stories from far-flung districts (outraged elders, stuffed ballot boxes, intimidated electoral staff); as the international actors were “allowing the process to run its course”; as the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) stoically continued to announce its batches of preliminary count results, while releasing more and more “dirty” ballot boxes into the count; and as the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) was faced with an ever growing number of complaints, on Tuesday 8 September 2009 suddenly all strands came together in what may well become the elections’ most important confrontation.


AAN Election Blog No. 26: If no one saw it, did it happen? – AAN recommended election reading

Martine van Bijlert, 29 August 2009

The further you get from where things happened, the easier it is to wonder whether they ever took place at all. And whether the reports (and echoes of reports) and denials (and echoes of denials) are not just a matter of claim, counterclaim and unsubstantiated rumour. Whether the calls of fraud are not just part of the political game of winning and losing.


AAN Election Guest Blog 2: This is how election fraud worked in Kandahar

Willi Germund, 27 August 2009

It was already dark and Afghanistan‘s elections had been over since three hours. Then suddenly two men accompanied by three police cars with armed and uniformed escorts showed up in front of the polling site in Kandahar’s Aino Mena neighbourhood. Very relaxed they entered the premises where ballot boxes where waiting to be picked up – and stuffed additional ballots into the boxes for the presidential and provincial council elections. “No one dared to stop them”, says Haji Gulalai who represented Muhammad Ehsan, the hitherto deputy head of the provincial council here.


AAN Election Guest Blog 1: Logar – any voters out there?

Christopher Reuter, 26 August 2009

For various reasons Logar seemed to be an interesting area to develop an understanding about the insurgency, the elections – and electoral fraud. The province, just south of Kabul, has the reputation to be at least partly controlled by Taleban. US forces conducted numerous raids in spring and had clashes with armed opponents. Only recently the situation did not deteriorate further, as it did for example in Wardak and most northern provinces.


AAN Election Blog No. 24: Stuffing and Counting in Paktia

Thomas Ruttig, 24 August 2009

A few days after the election, Paktia is in counting mode. Results from the districts trickle in and are collected and reconcilied by the different candidates’ campaigns. Also reports about a lot of irregularities are coming in, despite the low coverage of independent election observers.


AAN Election Blog No. 23: How much are we expected to believe?

Martine van Bijlert, 23 August 2009

As journalists are starting to pack up and go home and observers are formulating their conclusions (some irregularities, need to work on the voter registration) it seems that the real contest is yet to start. The network of governors, district governors, police chiefs and local commanders, that was mobilised in the run up to the elections and that had seemed to play a surprisingly minor role in the process (apart from some campaigning assistance) has kicked in. And has gone overboard in the process.


AAN Election Blog 21: Observing the Vote – An Election with Many Faces

Martine van Bijlert, 20 August 2009

Election Day 2009. After the suspense of the last few days, things seemed refreshingly normal. Kabul city was quiet, but people were chatting at the side of the road, riding their bicycles and allowing their children to play outside. I had decided to return to the areas where I had watched my first Afghan election enfold in 2004: the Shomali plains, just to the north of Kabul.


AAN Electoral Blog No. 17: Voter Turnout – stating the obvious

Martine van Bijlert, 19 August 2009

Some things are so obvious that you almost forget to mention them. This is one of them: voter turnout and what that tells us about voter engagement and the credibility of the elections. The answer is: very little.


AAN Election Blog No. 6: An Ink Issue Again?

Thomas Ruttig, 15 August 2009

During the 2004 presidential election, ink became an issue. Enraged losing candidates went as far as to demand that the vote be annulled because the ink supposedly did not work. Will it become an issue again?





Rearranging election outcomes while the IEC archive burns

Martine van Bijlert, 24 December 2009

While people across the world are wrapping their last gifts and doing their last Christmas shopping, Afghanistan still has unfinished election business. And it is clear that we haven’t seen the last of all the bizarre twists and turns.


Finishing the unfinished election (1): Helmand, Khost and Farah

Martine van Bijlert, 11 December 2009

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.


What the preliminary results tell us (3): Logar, Baghlan and Uruzgan

Martine van Bijlert, 16 October 2009

Another brief overview of what you can find when going through the preliminary election results in which a few simple calculations illustrate how far some people will go, acquiring thousands of votes often in very limited localities. No wonder voters feel their vote no longer counts. So let’s take a brief look at some results from Logar, Baghlan and Uruzgan.




Martine van Bijlert

More from this author