Elections in far-away places can be fairly crude affairs. Never mind procedures and regulations and forget about the monitors. Travellers from a Hazara enclave in southern Afghanistan, recount what an election looks like in their quarters.
In their area villagers are currently trying to figure out how to get the ballot papers and the boxes to their polling station. The material has safely arrived in the district centre, but the woleswal (district governor) and police chief have made it clear that they are not in a position to transport the material to the district’s six or so polling centres, ao the IEC representative asked the villagers if they can come and get it. The road goes through Taliban country and although lately they are being largely left alone as they travel (mainly since they started detaining Pashtun elders whenever the Taliban detained their people), driving a car full of ballot boxes through Taliban territory requires more than just courage and a group of armed men – but not arranging the transport means losing a chance to vote.
In the district centre itself polling is going to be in the woleswali (the district governor’s office). What about schools? All closed since four teachers were kidnapped two months ago. The area has two IEC representatives. One of them is known for his ‘generous registration’ (he has votes on offer for candidates who may be interested), while the other was only recently appointed, replacing his predecessor – reportedly after offering his help to one of the area’s prominent provincial council candidates.
As many people do these days, they started reminiscing about past elections. Access had been difficult at that time too and voters were few, but the boxes were full. A government official, who was also a provincial council candidate (but he did get caught and disqualified after the elections) offered to vote on people’s behalf, if they sent him their voter cards. The ‘police’ provided voting guidance to the voters who did turn up.
Were there no observers, I asked. There were many, mainly candidate agents. Most of them left after two of them were detained by the ‘police’. They were locked in a car because they had been unable to prove that their observer cards were genuine (or so the excuse went), and were only released when the ballot stuffing was over. The other candidate agents, in the meantime, had decided that maybe it was time to go home.
The candidates who lost complained – to the ECC too, but mainly to Karzai. At least one of them was promised a seat in the senate instead. When the list was finalised he had been replaced, but because it was someone else from his tribe and his province he decided to let the matter go. That person was replaced at the last moment by someone unrelated. When he raised the issue, some form of other compensation was promised (a trip or a scholarship) but never provided.
The Hazaras, aware of the danger of splitting their minority vote, decided to agree on a single provincial council candidate in this election. It wasn’t easy to find someone acceptable to all parties, given the history of factional disputes, village feuds and petty arguments. In the end they settled for a little-known recent returnee from Pakistan, who seemed educated and reasonable. Unfortunately, he was not as active as they had hoped, spending most of the campaign period in Kabul (being the only Hazara candidate he probably thought campaigning was unnecessary). The other two candidates in the area are Pashtun. As they have good relations with the Hazara community, some are considering voting for one of them, while others may not vote at all. So the vote is going to be split after all.
They are both travelling back to their areas before the election. Hoping to stay clear of the Taliban, who are said to be coming down from the mountains to set up their zanjirs (the chains, with which you make a mobile checkpoint). What will you do if there is a Taliban post? I hope they’ll let me through. And otherwise I’ll wait until they leave.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020