Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

2010 Election 25: The ECC, one district a time?

Fabrizio Foschini 5 min

The Electoral Complaints Commission is there after all. Beyond the criticism it has received, beyond the obscurity which surrounded its recent activities, beyond the fears of it being reduced – after last year’s confrontation – to a rubber-stamp body not willing to pick up a fight with strongmen if needed. The decision to invalidate all 34 polling centers (PC) of Purchaman district, Farah province, is a remarkably bold one – but it also is exactly that: one decision only. AAN analyst Fabrizio Foschini still looks into this recent development with some hope but also some remaining worries.

There are occasions when Ahmad Zia Rafat, the journalist-turned-ECC commissioner, is nicer to listen to than others. Having grown accustomed in the past months to his polite, soothing manners and tones, I enjoyed much more the strong content of one of his latest press conferences. His recent statements about the invalidation of the vote in Purchaman district, Farah province, come as a vindication of the ECC existence after months of low-profile attitude in the electoral process. Additionally, the ECC finally uploaded its first decisions in detail on the web – albeit hard to follow for most foreign observers because they consist of scans of hand-written Dari or Pashto documents. Does this show of efficiency can rekindle the hope for a still possible steer, at least partial, of these derailed elections?
Twenty days have now passed since the vote. The ECC has received 4,169 complaints, and processed 4,000 of them, 96 per cent as they proudly state. But only 376 decisions have been taken by the commission since now. These less than 10 per cent are not a good omen, considering that international attention is always ready to focus on some more or less new talks with the Taleban, while the internal one will soon be largely absorbed by the coming winter and its problems.

Time is short, and the amount of rigged vote to check is without doubt huge, but the Purchaman invalidations represent the chance for a new start (*). It may sound strange to rejoice for the invalidation of a whole district’s votes, but when the possibility runs high that every single vote there had not been cast by real Afghan citizens, but hurriedly counterfeited by supporters of some feared local strongmen, there is no taking away people’s rights involved in doing so. Somebody did it beforehand.

In line with the declaration of ECC, which stopped short of giving a name to one of the principal suspects of fraud in the district, it will suffice to mention that he is the brother of a very high-ranking, although seldom publicly seen security officer in the palace. But he is not alone, because in that huge, sparsely populated territory which is Purchaman, with 35 PC allocated(**), many candidates found votes to buy from the local authorities who organized the rigging. At their current market price, of course, which some sources put at US$ 20,000 $ for 5,000 votes and as much as 200,000 dollar for 12,000 votes (that is not against ordinary market rules, since 12.000 votes are a ticket to the Wolesi Jirga in Farah, as in most other provinces, while 5,000 are not).

So, on Election Day several known characters of the province could go shopping for votes in remote Purchaman district. For example, a rogue former Mahaz-e Melli commander-turned-owner of a security company may have thought it wise to help his son’s candidacy with some thousands additional votes – given the recent crusade against his honoured occupation. Furthermore, the district governor of Purchaman who has a son with political ambitions too, would have had of course the opportunity to leisurely set his heir’s way to the parliament.

Farah province had seen a very early commencement of the subsequent rows over the elections’ transparency. About six months ago, its IEC head resigned with the stated objective of not becoming involved in frauds. Prosecutor Mohammad Alam had been called in from his native Badghis in an IEC effort to curb corruption by rotating its officials from one province to another. Evidently not condoning some arrangements already in the making in his new working place, he got in the way of some powerful people. They tried to force him to acquiesce to their plans but only obtained his resignation instead.

Such an early conflict highlights the possibilities that the ‘conspiracy theories’ so frequently suggested by Afghans – that imply that there is a list of candidates supported by the highest government authorities – are more than just paranoia. The list of such VIP candidates in Farah would also include a lady with parental relations to the same high ranking official as above, further a candidate who is supported by the provincial governor due to their common Afghan Mellat party membership, and another who is the brother of the mayor of Farah town.

Thus, Purchaman is not the only district likely to have witnessed massive irregularities. Real voter turnout has been reportedly low as well in Khak-e Safed, Poshtrud, Gulestan and Bakwa (which had only one open PC by the way); vote rigging also have been registered in the provincial capital. Some candidates even put the percentage of ‘real votes’ in the province at no more than one tenth of the total.

The low number of complaints from Farah received by the ECC (among the lowest countrywide, 29 only), on the other hand, should not hint to a corresponding low amount of fraud in the election. In the places where most of it took place, local strongmen hold total sway over the population, and threatened or effectively punished those who dared to complain to the electoral authorities(***). Notwithstanding that, is remarkable how several candidates from the province gathered in Kabul in the first days of October to raise the issue of fraud. The influence this possibly had on the decision of the provincial ECC to carry on an investigation and finally decide to invalidate the district PCs is not known. But even in the absence of this kind of action, the central ECC must be able to monitor the efficiency of its provincial branches and to make up for their lack of initiative whenever necessary. It is imperative that the decision over Purchaman does not remain an isolated show of strength from the ECC. Many districts countrywide feature comparable levels of fraud and the presence of even stronger local powerbrokers against whom the commission’s decisions might have to go.

Also, it will be important not only that the IEC and the ECC continue to quarantine, disqualify or readmit votes in this and other provinces, but that the relevant authorities actually punish those recognized for having committed fraud (and two candidates involved in the Purchaman fraud are still likely to win a seat in Farah) according to the law. This represents one of the last chances for the commissions to give a clear message to both the Afghan people, who are rapidly losing trust in the electoral process, and to those who are too easily exploiting their institutional position to manipulate it.

(*) Actually, the IEC took first the decision to invalidate three of the district’s PC. The ECC soon followed disqualifying the remaining 31 on evidence of disproportionate local voting for a candidate who had not received substantial votes in any other parts of the province. The decision to invalidate all the PCs in Purchaman has been made by the provincial ECC and confirmed by the central commission.

(**) One PC closed on Election Day, but still the district received almost as many as Farah provincial centre with its 37, although it probably has less than half its population. This gave 42,000 ballot papers in total to the disposal of a district population variously estimated between 40-50,000.

(***) AAN has been hearing of huge fines imposed by the district authorities of Purchaman on those who filed complaints with the ECC, without being able yet to independently verify the truth behind this.


Government Democratization Elections


Fabrizio Foschini

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