What remained of a democratic process in Afghanistan had been brought to a halt with screeching brakes by the massive and systematic fraud on 20 August.
Finally, this fact has been recognised on the record by impartial bodies like the EU observers and the ECC. Realities simply could not be ignored any more.
The range of fraud clearly has implications both on the outcome of the election and on its legitimacy, both in the eyes of the Afghan voters and the international community. The political chief analyst of the EU observer mission, former German ambassador Gunter Mulack, states that fraud in the range of around 5 per cent of the vote would be ‘acceptable’ in countries like Afghanistan, but beyond the 10 per cent threshold it ‘puts the election in doubt’. Most figures given on the 20 August vote are far beyond this threshold.
The fraud was definitely much more widespread than the 600 polling stations already excluded from the counting (see Martine’s last blog on this website). Those only represent a bit more than 2 per cent out of the total 25,500 stations. A ‘senior Western diplomat’ in Afghanistan was quoted as saying that about 800 ‘fake poll sites’ (not specified whether polling stations, i.e. ballot boxes, or polling centres) did not open on election-day but delivered ballots into the counting process and, ‘besides’, that Karzai supporters took over ‘approximately [other] 800 legitimate polling centers and us[ing] them to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr. Karzai’. The same source gives 350,000 votes counted for Kandahar province while only estimated 25,000 votes had been really casts there – this is a fraud surplus of 325,000 alone in one province (see: Dexter Filkins and Carlotta Gall, ‘Fake Afghan Poll Sites Favored Karzai, Officials Assert’, New York Times, 6 Sept 2009).
Suspiciously, we still have not been told by the IEC how many polling stations were open on 20 August.
If we took the IEC turn-out figure of 6 million for real, the 1.5 million votes called ‘suspicious’ by the EU observers would represent 25 per cent. (Conceded that ‘suspicious’ does not mean ‘fraudulent’ yet). But even this number might be too conservative: Sources close to the President admitted off the records that there might have been no more than 2 – 2.5 million real votes. That’s all massive enough to call this election insufficiently legitimate even under ‘Afghan circumstances’. (We’re not trying to create a democracy of Swiss standards yet.)
Already 300,000 votes more or less (counted or disqualified) matter with regard to the issue whether there needs to be a second round or not. Based on a 6 million turn-out, 300,000 votes would make a difference of 5 per cent and could push Karzai from his announced 54.6 per cent share under the 50 per cent threshold.
The only way to give back legitimacy to this election would be to try to establish a halfway realistic result of the 20 August poll. This can only be done through the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). The commission needs sufficient time to dig through the complaints it has received, the cooperation of the IEC which has to share data with it (which is going on very slowly, as we hear from Kabul) and, first of all, the political backing of the Western governments for it. After the EU Observer mission’s initially very weak statements that tried to paint the picture of a flourishing Afghan democracy – echoing what it obviously perceived to be the view preferred by most of the EU member-state governments at this point of time – the EU foreign ministers have taken a strong position now. In their meeting on 15 September they demanded that the fraud allegations ‘must all be dealt with’ and expressed their hope ‘that it will result in an election result seen as credible by the Afghans themselves’.
But there doesn’t seem to be unanimous support for this in Kabul, in particular on the UN and the US side. UNAMA needs to insist on a full investigation, too. But UNAMA deputy head Peter Galbraith who reportedly did do has been sent on a ‘vacation’ by SRSG Kai Eide. In the UN mission in Kabul, there was something like a mutiny against a position to not publicly comment on voter turn-out figures, fraud etc.
This is particularly worrying because UNAMA with its field presence definitely has a lot of real figures, reports and other evidence of what really had happened on 20 August at its disposal. Apparently, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke goes into the same direction. He has recently repeated apologetic remarks that ‘there are imperfect elections throughout the west as well’ and that ‘that happens in every democracy’. As if Afghanistan were a democracy already.
At the same time, the IEC’s announcement of the preliminary final result last Tuesday tries to establish a fait accompli which will be difficult to challenge. The presidential spokesman Wahid Omar echoed the feeling of the inner circle in ‘the palace’ by saying: ‘Unless a miracle happens, we are the winner.’
This hangs a sword of Damocles over the whole process. It keeps the option open that the IEC simply overrules the ECC. It already has ignored the call of the head of the EU observers MEP Phillipe Morrillon not to publish any further results before all accusations of fraud has been checked.
Meanwhile, President Karzai lashed out against foreign ‘interference’ by the ECC – as if it were an illegal body installed by a colonial power. But the ECC is based on current Afghan law after all; opportunities to change it beforehand were wasted by the parliament and under the eyes of the current executive. Karzai further defends ‘the integrity of the election and the integrity of the Afghan people, and the integrity of the government in that process’ and says that ‘[i]f there was fraud, it was small – it happens all over the world’. That sounds like what Holbrooke stated.
When IEC head Azizullah Ludin – and Karzai behind him – do not have to fear that Holbrooke and Eide stop them, a possible scenario could look as follows: The IEC sets a random (and short) deadline for the ECC investigation on the complaints, allows it to disqualify some particularly odious ballot boxes but only to an extend that Karzai’s result remains above 50 per cent. Then, it declares Karzai the final victor and leaves the ECC sitting on the rest of the complaints. Although this would be against its own rule which say that it can only announce the final results after all complaints had been dealt with by the ECC the question is whether any serious protest would rise against this in the West – or whether most governments would silently be happy that the mess is (or rather looks as if it is) over.
This seems likely because the scenario of a second round of elections is feared by the President. This could produce new alliances, i.e. some of his allies in the Uzbek and Hazara camp might change sides again if they get a better bargain. (And it is clear to everyone that the President has promised much too much to too many people already.) The sensitivity of a second round scenario is illustrated by a recent media report quoting an IEC official that ballot papers for a possible run-off are already printed in London – and which calls the simple information that precautions are taken so sensitive that the source wants to remain anonymous.
Whether a second round takes place or not should not depend on whether one or the other contender wants it or not. It should neither depend on whether the US or other governments want it or not nor on the costs involved – as long as the money is spent for something useful and legitimate. The main consideration should be due process.
PS/ In the meantime, the IEC is trying to make sure that the current trouble with the ECC will not happen again. With a view to the 2010 parliamentary elections, the commission’s head has already given a draft for a revised electoral law to parliament. The most important amendments: candidate vetting will be dropped and the ECC will be fully afghanised. But a clone of the current IEC will just make sure that there is not a single body complainants can turn to next year.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020