It is interesting to see how candidates narrow down the local parliamentary elections to a competition between a limited number of rivals. The women in many provinces have their own competition, vying mainly for the seats reserved for female candidates. Their complaints thus tend to focus on their immediate female rivals, disregarding the fraud that may have been conducted by the men. In some areas, however, women candidates have entered the competition for the non-reserved seats as well – most prominently in Nimruz.
In Nimruz, a distant province bordering both Iran and Pakistan, the two main female candidates were locked in such a fierce competition that they seem to have won both parliamentary seats. Local estimates, based on initial polling station counts, put the totals of four leading candidates between 2000 and 3500 votes. But there are only two seats and the two women – Fereshta Amini and Farida Hamidi – seem to be leading by a rather wide margin (incumbent Saliha, the third female candidate, did not do very well).
The province first caught the headlines after election day, when the Kabul-based Pajhwok News Agency reported that 60 per cent of the Nimruz vote had been cast in female polling stations. This is an implausibly high figure, given that female turnout in Kabul province has always hovered around 30% – even when taking into account the proximity with Iran and the cultural influences that come with that (the higher levels of female education, and education in general, and the greater mobility of women).
Reports from candidates and their supporters – clearly not disinterested parties – describe considerable fraud by all candidates that managed to secure a high vote count. There did not seem to have been that much of the wholesale capture of polling centres, and the massive ballot-stuffing that comes with that, that plagued some of the other provinces. Instead most reports of fraud focused on the widespread use of fake voter cards, as well as kuchi cards(*), and multiple voting facilitated by the washing-off of what was meant to be indelible ink. As in previous elections, female voter cards played a prominent role in this regard. IEC staff was in many cases complicit. And several candidates related how local security forces allowed the supporters of one of the women candidates to drive (female) voters from polling station to polling station, in a city that was otherwise closed for traffic.
There were also several accounts of how some fraud was allowed, while other attempts were thwarted. In one polling centre in Charborjak district for instance, kuchis were reported to have been allowed to vote several times for a non-kuchi candidate. However, when a commander arrived with a bag full of voter cards, he was reportedly prevented from using them by the gathered candidate agents. In Kang district one candidate was said to have used over 100 kuchi cards in his favour in one polling station. But when he went to another location, he was reportedly told that he had already done enough fraud in the other area and was asked to leave.
This is something many outside observers fail to grasp; how fraud generally takes place in clear sight – as there are always witnesses and stories tend to be passed around rather quickly (and for all the rumour and exaggeration, many of them often turn out to be true) – and how bystanders often risk repercussions in trying to stop it from happening. That also explains why leaving obvious fraud unaddressed at the later stages of quarantining and counting really irks many of those involved. There were also allegations of fabricated insecurity in the days before the election, so as to cause polling centres to be closed or moved to areas with a different constituency, and to undermine the vote of selected candidates.
Interestingly it seemed that none of the candidates were dominant personalities in their own right. Several of them had been led to believe that they would be supported by the province’s governor and main former commander, only to find out – in some cases – that they may have been fielded only to undermine the candidacy of their friends. There were, finally, multiple and mutual allegations of Iranian backing. With the provincial capital Zaranj precariously perched on the border with Iran, the spotting of Iranian interference has become an understandable obsession among local politicians.
And what about the two women candidates? There is clearly a discussion going on behind the scenes whether both seats should be given to two women. You can hear the echoes of an argument that – incorrectly – wants to treat the non-reserved seat as a seat reserved for a man. The runner-up male candidates can of course try to regain the seat by seeking the disqualification of a large number of the winning votes, as candidates are doing all over the country. But there are indications that the local powers are now telling them to back off and to let the women win – a result of multiple and simultaneous deals.
Of course everything may change again. The full results of the Nimruz vote,now partially being released, will probably be announced in the coming days. The local predictions may have been off (although I don’t expect them to be), boxes may still be quarantined, and then there are still the ECC investigations. As usual, it’s not over until it’s over.
(*) Kuchis – or nomads – are treated as a single national constituency in the parliamentary election. They hold separate voter cards, vote in separate polling stations and have their own election for reserved seats. There have however been multiple reports of kuchi voter cards being used in the various regular provincial-level elections. This is probably the result of the hunt for voter card numbers, as ballots cast need to be backed up by voter card number in the polling station logs.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020