As the basic data is still being released and clarified (or not), the IEC has found itself confronted with a series of awkward loose ends. This is being complicated by the rising pressure from candidates, the palace and, more recently, the Attorney General’s Office, as an increasing number of actors is being dragged into the controversy. The ECC in the meantime is plodding along, adjudicating its complaints and maintaining that the provincial offices know what they are doing – even though a review of the decisions in some cases clearly suggests otherwise.
Since the announcement of the preliminary results, information has been released in fits and starts and only some of it is publicly available. On 25 October 2010 the Independent Election Commision (IEC) posted a turnout summary on its website that lists the vote totals per province and gives a total turnout figure of 4,271,908 (*). The number of votes was, unsurprisingly, highest in provinces that have relatively large urban centres, followed by provinces in the north, as well as the contentious provinces of Ghazni and Ghor:
From high to lower we find: Kabul (479,158), Herat (355,161), Nangarhar (296,268), Balkh (260,450), Badakhshan (232,452), Takhar (221,878), Faryab (199,347), Ghazni (180,955) and Ghor (178,845).
The lowest totals were counted in Uruzgan (13,611), Zabul (14,813), Panjshir (22,918) and Nooristan (23,981). Kandahar reported only 85,835 votes, after considerable disqualifications.
Although no information has been provided on the number of votes that were disqualified per province or per polling station, the IEC has – informally – provided observers and candidates with lists showing which polling stations were removed. The provinces that were hardest hit in terms of the number of polling stations invalidated were Herat (271 polling stations disqualified), Kandahar (268), Paktika (212), Ghor (188), Baghlan (172), Paktia (159), Ghazni (151), Wardak (145), Badghis (114), Nangarhar (110) and Farah (100). Nimruz and Panjshir saw no polling stations disqualified, and Bamyan, Zabul, Parwan and Helmand only a handful (respectively 4, 5, 7, and 8). Proportionally the provinces that were hardest hit were Paktika (47% of the opened polling stations were disqualified), Nooristan (44%), Badghis (39%), Paktia (38%), Wardak (37%), Ghor (35%), Kandahar and Baghlan (both 30%). The rest of the data can be found here.
While the process is now in the hands of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), the IEC has been running into a few awkward loose ends. First of all, there is the mystery of the missing polling stations: 624 or 777 polling stations, depending on which total figure you use, that were reported as having opened but that disappeared from the records shortly after. Basically, when the IEC announced its preliminary results, it posted data for 14,424 polling stations and announced that it had disqualified another 2,543 – a figure that corresponds with the detailed lists that are in circulation. This brings the total to 16,967, which is significantly lower than the number of polling stations that were declared to have been open on polling day: either 17,591 as announced on 28 September, or 17,744 as announced on 20 October (the discrepancy in itself remains unexplained).
Some of the missing stations may have simply reported no votes and were for that reason never entered into the count, others may represent stations for which no results sheets were received. There may be perfectly valid reasons, but it does beg the question why no measures were taken – a simple spreadsheet would have probably been enough – to trace whether all polling stations were accounted for. As has been noted before, the total lack of clarity surrounding the basic figures gives a fair idea of the level of disarray that the IEC was faced with when trying to grapple with the aftermath of the vote (**).
More specifically, the IEC found out that a reporting error after the recount of 181 suspicious ballot boxes in Badakhshan may have seriously skewed the preliminary results for this province. The provincial staff, when they sent in their findings, only reported the differences compared to the initial result sheets, which meant that a large number of previously counted – and valid – votes disappeared from the database. It is an obvious error that needs to be rectified and the corrections are being done, as we speak, in the presence of observers and (some) candidates, but the possibility of altering the preliminary results after they were announced is highly problematic. Any change in the slate of winner and losers will signal to other candidates that the results are still open for negotiation and will lead to widespread speculation that the changes were made under pressure or against payment.
This is particularly pertinent given the huge amount of rumours swirling around and the many channels of pressure that are being pursued. Local observers, for instance, claim that the IEC still conducted a large number of recounts after the announcement of the preliminary results (in addition to today’s Badakhshan correction process). They are unsure what this means and have presented the details of their complaint to the ECC. Candidates continue to be highly suspicious of behind-the-scenes deals that they assume are taking place and that will rob them of their votes. This is exacerbated by rumours and articles in the media, including reports on some very tense meetings that are supposed to have taken place between president Karzai and IEC chair Manawi, with Manawi being put under pressure to remove specific candidates from the list and to rectify the ethnic inbalance in Ghazni.
There are also the various judicial avenues that are being pursued. The Attorney General’s Office has started an investigation into the IEC’s conduct after having received a large number of complaints alleging that valid votes were disqualified and that IEC staff was involved in fraud. A delegation has already made preliminary visits to the electoral compound. However, the legal basis for such an investigation, other than a general sense of injustice and wrongdoing, remains somewhat unclear.
The Wolesi Jirga, in an attempt to challenge the ECC’s reading of the new Electoral Law, has – unsuccessfully – called on the Supreme Court to clarify the interpretation of the law’s article 57.2 (which states that the IEC is able to “include or permanently exclude quarantined ballot boxes from the counting process” after investigations in the presence of observers, candidates and political party representatives). The Wolesi Jirga was however rebuffed by the Supreme Court, who stated that in their opinion the article was perfectly clear and not in need of further clarification (source: Hewad, 03/11). Earlier in the process the Wolesi Jirga had turned to the Independent Commission for the Supervision of the Implementation of the Constitution (ICSIC), asking them to rule on whether Parliament was allowed to form a committee to monitor the vote count. The ICSIC however resisted being dragged into the fray, arguing that this was a matter that warranted deep thought.
In the meantime candidates continue to mobilize and lobby, with the most recent demonstrations of disappointed candidates taking place in Kabul (on Tuesday and Wednesday) and Khost (this morning). Interestingly, the demonstrations have brought together considerable numbers of former rivals and, in many cases, more candidates than can realistically hope to get a seat. This is also reflected in the demands, that now go beyond the recount of specific areas or ballot boxes, and instead ask that the results of the current election be annulled and that new elections be held – but only after the introduction of a computerized civil registry and a fairer distribution of voter cards.
The demonstrators are becoming increasingly well organized. They have a fairly effective media strategy and in the coming days many of them will probably return to their provinces to organize further events, in an attempt to keep the protests going and to have them spread across the country. The demonstrations are unlikely to become violent, but the protesters may seek to increase pressure by for instance closing off roads, as happened in Paktia last week. And although the demands of the demonstrators will not be met, they do highlight some of the fundamental problems that have increasingly thrown Afghanistan’s elections off-balance.
Meanwhile the ECC is plodding away at the adjudication of the 2352 ‘category A’ complaints that could affect the election result. On 31 October it had decided on 1311 cases, which represent 56% of the accepted complaints, and they are expected to announce another jump this coming Saturday. The provinces where the ECC has so far progressed most included Panjshir and Daikondi (both 100%, but Panjshir only had 3 complaints), Kabul (91%), Takhar (88%) and Paktia (79%). The province with most complaints still pending, both in absolute and relative terms, is Herat where 49 out of 190 (26%) complaints have been decided on (the latest overview can be found here).
The decisions, with the exception of the appeals, are taken at the provincial level. The quality of the written rulings is very uneven and there is little consistency in how evidence is gathered and how the decisions are taken and recorded. Some documents are impossible to read due to the poor quality of the copy or its illegible handwriting, others contain next to no substance (other than saying that there was “proof of fraud” or that “the complaint was unfounded”). One of the most remarkable differences with last year’s methodology is the widespread reliance on witness statements (in some cases basically boiling down to: “the defendant denied the accusation and the DFC also said that there had been no problem”) and a reluctance to investigate the actual evidence in the ballot boxes.
The election has become a process in three stages: first of all polling day, which results in a somewhat random distribution of votes, under the influence of politicking, insecurity and fraud; secondly the tally process, during which the distribution of votes is rigorously, but again randomly, rearranged; and thirdly the complaints adjudication process, which is another filter that is unlikely to bring the end result any closer to how people voted (or would have wanted to vote). It is really time, after a series of increasingly problematic elections, to rethink the current system.
(*) This figure includes both the valid and invalidated votes (invalidated votes are those cast for candidates who were still on the ballot but who had in the meantime died or been disqualified), but not the invalid votes (which are the ballots that have for instance more than one mark on them). Without the invalidated votes the total is 4,265,354 which is almost the same total figure as given at the 20 September press conference (4,265,347) as the total number of valid votes cast.
(**) The IEC has still not provided a satisfactory explanation for the hike in reported turnout from 4.3 to 5.6 million votes. It claims that the removed votes were ‘empty votes’, in that they were added to the total after the local IEC staff had reported the number of ballots actually used (which added up to the initial turnout figure of 4.3 million). But that clearly doesn’t work as an explanation – if only because of the large numbers of actually cast ballots that have also been disqualified (unless there is still a very large number of ‘empty votes’ included in the current results, which cannot be what the IEC is trying to argue). It is quite telling that the IEC is willing to imply that they presided over a system that allowed the addition of over a million non-existing votes – particularly if you assume that they probably chose the least damaging explanation they could think of.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020