Just when the first round of protests staged by parliamentary candidates who did not find their names in the winning preliminary results was waning, a conspicuous new round of disqualifications and then the announcement of the final results have poured fresh gasoline on the fire. The dramatic intervention of the Attorney General has stoked the fire further, boosting losing candidates’ morale by giving them new reasons for hope. Waiting to know what further surprises this autumn has in store for would-be parliamentarians, electoral officers, voters and observers, AAN’s researcher Obaid Ali considers what message the protesters are sending.
Kabul, any week since the end of October, (including yesterday)… fairly large numbers of, as they are called locally, ‘disappointed’ (na-raz) election candidates march on the streets of Shahr-e Nau or Wazir Akbar Khan in protest, followed by their core supporters carrying banners and placards, denouncing the illegitimacy of the ballot and threatening wider protests across the country unless new elections are held. They have organized themselves as the Union of the Afghan Wolesi Jirga Candidates, with a spokesman – the prominent 2005 MP for Ghazni, Daud Sultanzoi -, regular press releases and all. (Find a list of its members at the end of the blog.) Policemen follow the protesters in a somewhat relaxed fashion and the traffic reorganizes itself to get past this additional inconvenience.
Since the announcement of the preliminary results on 20 October, candidates from many provinces have gathered in Kabul and taken to the streets calling for justice and the restitution of what they call their real votes, which they claim were unjustly stolen or invalidated during the counting process. The candidates come from many provinces – among them Helmand, Farah, Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, Samangan, Takhar, Kunduz, Baghlan, Ghazni, Wardak, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Laghman, Nangrahar and Paktia – but they are organizing joint protests in the capital.
The protesters are a mixed bunch of people. Among them are incumbent members of parliament, supporters of the opposition as well of President Karzai; some of them helped to run his campaign for the 2009 presidential election. This shows that their protests are much more personally driven than politically. (They are also not non-political since they address a fundamental problem of what was supposed to be an Afghan democracy.)
Now, seriously upset by their own defeat and the victory of rivals, the Karzai supporters are voicing extreme dissatisfaction with the procedures employed by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) which last year got their man into office. Their silence in 2009 or their applauding of the ‘transparency of the ballot’ is long gone. A sort of revolution must have taken place, turning them into angry protesters on the streets of the capital.
In general, the protesting candidates blame both the IEC and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) for carrying out massive manipulations during the count and for fiddling with the preliminary (and then the final) results. They urge the nation and the international community to commit themselves to a solution of the issue, their stated objective being new election with improved procedure and efforts to guarantee both security and transparency of a new vote. Their complaints against the 18 September poll consist of several key points:
• the arbitrary closure of polling centers (PC) in secure places carried out by the IEC;
• the lack of integrity among the electoral personnel, along with the wrongdoings of the DFCs (District Field Coordinators) and the links of specific staff with specific candidates;
• the nullification of many candidates’ votes without any given reason;
• the shortage of ballot papers in some PCs on E-Day and the number of ballot papers which went missing during delivery.
The union of the disgruntled candidates had already staged four major demonstrations and rallies in Kabul during the weeks before the announcement of the final results and they have continued since then. The last one , hitherto, was held on 29 November and took them from Park-e Zarnegar to Malek Asghar junction near the UNAMA compound. They attracted a few hundred participants each. Occasionally, passers-by joined the ranks of the demonstrators but there is no general or widespread mobilization.
● denounced the recent electoral process, declared the votes cast on 18 September invalid and the preliminary results illegitimate;
● demanded that the Attorney General’s office, the Afghan police and intelligence identified those who committed fraud and violated the law and had been detained on Election Day across the country and shared the results of their investigations with the public;
● demanded from the Attorney General and the Supreme Court to bring to justice and prosecute all those who were involved in fraud during the election process, whether they be IEC staff, government officials, candidates or their agents;
● urged the Afghan government and the international community to pay attention to the outcome of the elections and address these issues seriously, warning them that neglecting to do so may result in a catastrophe for the stability of the region;
● asked to hold new parliamentary elections on the basis of computerized national ID cards.
Related demonstrations have been staged elsewhere, in Herat, Takhar, Kunduz, Paktia and Nangarhar, all calling for the same solutions to the same issues as in Kabul and attended by Union members. In a separate development, a number of incumbent MPs also criticized a private TV channel for broadcasting the names of those parliamentary candidates who had been accused of fraud during the parliamentary elections(*).
The Afghan media is giving extensive coverage to the protests. But neither this nor the relatively small degree of local support stirred by the personal popularity of some of the protesting candidates seemed to be sufficient for the movement to have an impact on the outcome of the elections. As with last year’s post-election protests, one could sense that the government was just waiting for the wind of discontent to die down, without it having to bother to intervene. Indeed, at that point, the news about the parliamentary elections and the protests began to tire most Afghan citizens.
Then, the fresh round of disqualifications by the EEC on 20 November changed the predicted course of events. Fresh protests – more widespread and more violent – have taken place in several provinces, in Zabul, Baghlan, Samangan and (for the losing, but not disqualified candidate, Pacha Khan Zadran(**)) in Paktia. Roads have been blocked, occasionally weapons have been used. At least five people were wounded, and at the border between Balkh and Samangan, a pregnant woman died because she could not get to hospital. In an interview with local Tolo TV on 28 November, IEC chairman Fazl Ahmad Manawi, said the protest’s aim to ‘sabotage the [election] procedure’.
Then, the Attorney General urged the IEC, which was planning to announce the final results on 24 November, to withhold them, to take 60 more hours to investigate still pending complaints and to announce the result only when all investigations were completed. But the IEC refused and went ahead with the results on 24 November. This, in turn, sparked the arrests by the Attorney General of both IEC and EEC officials on charges of having corrupted the election. Six money-changers and three managers of private construction companies have also been arrested on similar charges. Arrest warrants are also out for several of the most senior election officials, among them Nur Muhammad Nur and Shafeq Kohistani, the spokesman and the head of the IT department of the IEC, ECC spokesman and commissioner Ahmad Zia Rafat and the head of the ECC investigation department Amanullah Tajali. All of them remained at large, however. Both the IEC and ECC replied with vocal criticism of the Attorney General, proposing that he should have contacted the ECC to investigate the allegations rather than starting to arrest officials on the various charges.
While this row is going on and nobody is able to tell with what result it will end,
there is a fresh category of protesters: Senators also complaining about the results – the fraud, the foreign interference, their hasty announcement – and voicing their support for the Attorney General.
While many people involved and also many analysts believe that the Palace itself is behind the show of strength of the Attorney General, the President has not publicly commented on the AG’s action but only on his dissatisfaction about the still pending Ghazni result and otherwise pledged for calm.
When now, as many Afghan and international actors propose, the Ghazni result is cancelled and new elections are held – or some other ‘solution’ is found that also will deprive at least some of the elected Hazara candidates of their Wolesi Jirga seat, only one thing can be predicted for sure: That there will be yet another wave of protests, this time in Hazara-populated areas, including just around the corner, in West Kabul.
(*) These MPs say that ‘they support freedom of speech and of the media’, but describe this act by Tolo TV as ‘an attack on their personality and damaging to their reputation’. Tolo TV believes that what has been broadcast is consistent with the people’s right to have access to information.
(**) He most probably had a large number of votes invalidated for alleged ballot stuffing.
Members of Union of the Afghan Wolesi Jirga Candidates (no guarantee that it is complete):
From Kabul: MP Kabir Ranjbar, MP Shahla Maihandost;
Baghlan: Muhammad Ashraf, Mariam Daqiq, Muhibullah Muhaqqeq, Agha Mir Ghafuri, Muhammad Taher Gardon;
Ghazni: Eng. Abdul Hakim Dalili, MP Sayyed Mahmud Hossamuddin Gailani, MP Niaz Muhammad Amiri, MP Khial Muhammad Hussaini, MP Daud Sultanzoi, MP Mamur Abdul Jabbar Shulgari;
Helmand: Haji Abdul Hakim, Abdul Wahed Karezwal, Haji Abdul Ahad Helmandwal, Leila Barakzai;
Kandahar: Haji Mamur Abdul Qader Sharifi, MP Nur-ul-Haq Ulumi, Haji Abdul Khaleq Kandahari;
Khost: Karim Qazizada, Gul Qasem Jehadyar, Nur Wali Jan, Maulawi Sardar Zadran, Amin Jan Saberi;
Kunduz: Dr Hunqa Amiri, Abdul Hadi Faiz, MP Mu’in Mrastyal;
Samangan: Amir Sultan Hossain;
Laghman: Abdul Rashid Amerkhel, Jamaluddin Seddiqi, Dr Humayun Laghmani, Dr Habiburrahman Nang, Naqibullah Muhabbat (***), MP Abdul Hadi Wahedi, MP Zaifnun Safi (***), Muhammad Agha Mubarez;
Wardak: Ustad Muhammad Anwar Maidanwal, General Zalmai Wardak, Fatima Fatir, Dr Zabihullah Ahmadi.
(***) These two names are now included in the final results’ list as winners of a Wolesi Jirga seat.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020