Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

AAN Election Blog No. 26: If no one saw it, did it happen? – AAN recommended election reading (UPDATED)

Martine van Bijlert 4 min

The further you get from where things happened, the easier it is to wonder whether they ever took place at all. And whether the reports (and echoes of reports) and denials (and echoes of denials) are not just a matter of claim, counterclaim and unsubstantiated rumour. Whether the calls of fraud are not just part of the political game of winning and losing.

So let me remind you of some of the reports from the ground that have been published elsewhere over the last few days and that give a good sense of what the issues are. These reports don’t argue in favour of or against the victory of one or other candidate. They are not based on wild claims or vague stories. They are balanced, grounded and detailed. They reflect the surprise and exasperation that many Afghans and international bystanders felt, as they watched the manipulation exercise being taken to the extreme and as they listened to international officials declare “achievement”.

Recommended reading includes (the list will be updated, so feel free to send in suggested additions):

Go tell the world about our fake election by Alex Strick van Linschoten, based on his election day observations in Kandahar, 21 August 2009.

The Afghan election was rigged by Atif B (not his real name), an op-ed from Kandahar district Khakrez, 25 August 2009.

Afghanistan’s Sham Vote by Jean MacKenzie, head of IWPR in Kabul, New York Times op-ed, 25 August 2009.

This article carries a great quote by Obama: “No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, even if occasionally you sprinkle an election in there.” It sounded timely and to the point – except that it was not about Afghanistan.

Afghan election fraud allegations mount as Karzai lead widens by Ben Arnoldy of the Christian Science Monitor, 26 August 2009.

Arnoldy raises the question “If a ballot box was stuffed but nobody saw it, did it happen?” But who is nobody? Not only did people see it happen, there was a large number of people involved, who brag about it to their friends or who are looking for a place they can deposit their story – because not everybody’ who participated in the fraud did so voluntarily. There are also various videos (probably recorded on mobile phones) circulating, showing groups of people outside polling station marking, folding and ballot-stuffing the papers into IEC ballot boxes. They should surface on youtube fairly soon.

Afghan polling station gave clear image of nothing but a box of tricks by Peter Nicholls, and No sign of voters on election day in Afghanistan despite official claims by Tom Coghlan, both in The Times, 21 August 2009.

Coghlan and Nicholls tell the story of the miraculous appearence of votes in ballot boxes without voters present in a school in Pul-e Charkhi district in Eastern Kabul.

Helmand vote marred by rockets and fraud by IWPR’s Mohamamd Ilyas Dayee and Aziz Ahmad Tassal.

The report from Helmand’s capital Lashkargah describes vividly how election day there veered from tragedy to farce and back again.

Afghans Speak of Electoral Fraud and Fear by various anonymous reporters, IWPR 27 August 2009.

Spanning the Afghan North-South divide, this article gives interesting witnesses’ reports of multiple and proxy voting (Herat), ballot-box stuffing in districts where no elections were held at all (Wardak), gifts for votes (Balkh) and intimidation (all three) during the 20 August election.

Accusations Of Vote Fraud Multiply in Afghanistan by Joshua Partlow and Pamela Constable, Washington Post, 27 August 2009/

This report from Mazar-e Sharif tells about ballot-box stuffing and voter intimidation from all sides, inclusing a beaten up observer who wanted to prevent fraud from happening and a female election monitor saying: ‘I was a witness to fraud, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.’

Afghan threats mean empty ballot boxes by Emmanuel Duparcq, AFP 27 August 2009.

And here is a report from Logar, confirming our guest blogger’s experience from that province to the immediate south of the capital Kabul: about an election day when Logaris ‘stayed at home, frightened by rockets and rebel threats, and the ballot boxes remained empty’. It quotes a local workshop owner as saying: ‘To tell the truth, there were no elections in Logar province’.

Wardak Sitting Out Elections by Fahim Farhod, IWPR 20 August 2009.

This report describes how ‘a day before elections, the people of Wardak are wondering how they might be able to participate in the process’.

Afghan elections seen as a setback for women by Nahal Toosi and Noor Khan for AP, 20 August 2009.

Reporting from Kandahar where rocket fire prevented women from voting, the report says that country-wide at least 650 polling stations for women did not open.

Women voter turnout sinks in Afghanistan by Nasrat Shoib, AFP 23 August 2009.

This news item quotes the US-based (with an office in Kabul) National Democratic Institute: “Aside from Bamiyan and provinces in the north, the turnout of women for this election was notably low. In certain polling stations in the south and southeast, almost no women voted.”

Afghan women stayed away from polls by Pamela Constable, Washington Post 31 August 2009.

In this article, a femal legislator from Nangahar province says: “Everywhere I went before elections, I urged women in the villages to vote. But when the day came, even professional women in the city who normally felt free to go to work and shops and weddings stayed home. I was shocked.” Another one from the Southeast states: “It made me sad to see how far backward things have gone for women in my province in just a few years.”

One in five Afghan ballots may be illegal, UN warns by Jon Boone in The Guardian, 24 August 2009.

This article carries the following quote by IEC deputy head Zekria Barakzai “We have reached the conclusion that 35 cases of reported fraud and violations [the number increased in the meantime, see Ben Arnoldy’s article above- AAN] is not widespread, given the number of polling centres is 6,300. […] Whoever makes claims that there is widespread fraud should show evidence.”

And here is a quote from Kabul daily Hasht-e Sobh (8 am), 24 August 2009:

“The important issue is not that who will win or lose, but the main concern is that based on what approach the victory of any particular candidate is determined. The election must strengthen the belief in people’s conscience that victory can be gained through democracy, otherwise nothing will be changed through any candidate’s success. It is because people and their beliefs are more important.”

(The title of the article, by the way, “Cheating and frauds, but in a limit’, is meant ironical. However, some media and also the BBC Monitoring have taken it seriously and presented it as an example that even Afghan media otherwise critical had been satisfied with the election. Dear Hasht-e Sobh journalists, please be careful with irony – some foreigners might not get it!)

The discussion about fraud is not about who wins. Its about what the rules are and whether they are followed. Its about whether this is going to be a process that is worth supporting.


Democratization Elections Government


Martine van Bijlert

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