Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

AAN Election Blog No. 6: An Ink Issue Again?

Thomas Ruttig 2 min

During the 2004 presidential election, ink became an issue. Enraged losing candidates went as far as to demand that the vote be annulled because the ink supposedly did not work. Will it become an issue again?

In 2004, the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) – composed of Afghans and internationals – had purchased indelible ink from Mysore in India to make sure that no voter can cast his vote twice. In some areas, however, the indelible ink seemingly proved to be delible. Some voters started to rub the ink and it seemed to fade away. Outrage was the reaction. But, as it turned out, this was not for permanent – the ink came back. Some more aggressive chemicals, however, achieved a better effect. One of our UN colleagues showed us how.

In many cases, it was not the fault of the ink (or its producers) but simply human failure. The ink was provided in the form of marker pens. But in some cases, electoral personnel just confused them with normal marker pens you use for writing. In other cases, the pens went dry and the personnel tried to stretch the ink with other fluids to make it work again. Then, it did not work anymore, of course. Some polling stations had received no pens at all or no sufficient numbers of them. Or the personnel forgot to (or were not told) that the silver nitrate-based ink needed to be exposed to the light before becoming indelible.
Proper training or better logistics could have avoided a near breakdown. The UN is convinced that this technical glitch will not be repeated this year. Good quality ink was purchased. That it sticks was demonstrated at a press conference on 2 August where IEC staff applied the ink to the index finger of Kai Eide, the top UN diplomat in Afghanistan, who showed it to the world press. Eide hat challenged the media in advance to bring any chemical (that would not destroy his finger) to try out whether the ink could be washed away. No one managed, with soap and other cleansing materials. (Was green tea tried?) Eide said that fraud prevention measures were much better than in 2004, when Afghanistan held its first presidential election.
Jandad Spinghar, the head of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), the umbrella of the Afghan independent election observer organizations, still has his doubts. The enforcement of the one-vote ink rule, he says, will depend on the impartiality of the election staff. ‘We have enough observers, but in places where there are no observers or the IEC is not able to control the impartiality of their staff, we cannot guarantee a good vote’, he said. Read the full news item here.
But the ink might become an issue again for other reasons: voter security. Eyewitnesses from Zabul reported that recently a Taleban commander had warned people gathered in a mosque: ‘We will know those who cast a vote from the ink, and his finger will be cut off.’ Shabnama (‘nightletters’) with an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan letterhead were found in Kandahar warning ‘if anyone participates in this election we will give them strong punishment’. The full article see here.
These threats might keep many away from the ballot boxes, in particular in the insurgency-ridden South. Or the local election staff might just decide not to use the ink at all, to protect the voters.
(Photo: Eric Kanalstein/UNAMA)


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