For various reasons Logar seemed to be an interesting area to develop an understanding about the insurgency, the elections – and electoral fraud. The province, just south of Kabul, has the reputation to be at least partly controlled by Taleban. US forces conducted numerous raids in spring and had clashes with armed opponents. Only recently the situation did not deteriorate further, as it did for example in Wardak and most northern provinces. By CHRISTOPH REUTER*
Hezb-e Islami and Taleban have been distributing their notorius “nightletters” in Logar since early 2009, warning people not to register for the elections and warning them more fiercely not to vote. In interviews prior to the elections, several people from Logar mentioned their fear and the growing sense of Taleban-control in their area. Hence a low turnout could be expected.
On the other hand, some strange phenomena were reported from Logar after the conclusion of the registration process in spring: Logar had the highest ratio of female registrations. According to various sources between 67 and 72 percent of the newly registered voters were women. The figures are highly unlikely taking into account that in this conservative Pashtun society women are only seen in public (if ever) as tacit blue shadows, moving quickly in the bazar, but not participating in politics.
Interviewees from Logar confirmed that the governmental registration offices had issued voting-cards for women who had not registered in person. Instead, cards had been given to husbands and fathers claiming random numbers of cards for all their wives, adult daughters, sisters etc. These cards have no picture, no thumb-print – thus being the perfect tool for fraudulent voting, given that the IEC staff accepts them. The most striking example for this disparity was the northern district of Mohammed Agha: 3,463 men and 12,094 women got their registration cards. An unnoticed feminist Tsunami running over Mohammed Agha?
Combining the two factors of an expectable low turnout and indications for the preparation of fraud, the absence of election observers in the whole southeast of Afghanistan would play a crucial role – who would have the authority to doubt the official number, if no one had the chance to check the voting-process? In some areas of Logar there were at least some local observers from the Free and Fair Election Foundation (FEFA). However, most of them had no experience, hadn’t even received the promised four-hour training and were subject to pressure from local authorities. To my knowledge, there were no international observers in Logar.
So we decided to go to Mohammed Agha, the second largest district of Logar with the 77 per cent rate of female registration.
Only days before the elections, Hezb-e Islami had distributed letters in at least three villages, warning the locals: “Don’t vote! We are amongst you! We’ll punish you!” We chose three polling centres in close vicinity to each other to be able to visit each centre at least once per hour: the Mohammed Agha High School, the disctrict headquarters and a school in the village of Safed Sangi. Around seven o’ clock, the three centers opened. Everything was in place, ballot-papers, the “indelible” ink, the boxes, the personnel. The only missing detail: the voters.
At the district headquarter, one man showed up at opening time: “I wanted to be the first voter today! Obviously, I am.“ A few men were coming, and after a small explosion 500 to 1000 meters away, no one came for a while. At noon, 76 men and no woman had voted here. In the High School, there were slightly above 100 men and seven women. In Safed Sangi, less than 100 men and three female elections officers had voted. All together around 300 voters in three out of 18 polling centres in a district with “around 100,000 potential voters”, as the district head of FEFA estimated.
A few more people showed up in the afternoon. “They wanted to wait and see, if it is safe to vote“, as Neq Mohammed, the head of the polling center in the district HQ supposed: “And the women first had to cook lunch for their families.”
In all three polling centres there were FEFA obervers. In the High School, even two candidate agents observed the voting process. It seemed to go rather correctly: The numbers of registration cards were written down, IDs are marked (although with a scissor instead of the punch pliers, which all broke after the first voters), fingers inked. With a reluctant truck driver who first refused fearing for his finger to be chopped by Taleban at a checkpoint a compromise was reached: the fingertip, but not the nail will be inked.
In one of the polling station for females in the district HQ the female election official refused male observers to enter, and chose only to answer questions through a cardboard panel. At other female polling stations male observers were allowed to enter as long as no female voters were present. The number of female voters in the district HQ jumped from 0 to 85 within an hour between our visits. The policemen at the gate said they hadn’t count the number of women entering, “but there definitely hadn’t been more than 20 to 30.”
After three o’clock hardly any voters showed up. Shortly before the four o’clock closing time, there had been 385 male voters at the high school and 35 females. The district HQ a few minutes earlier had 115 men – and the mentioned 85 women. In the elementary school in Safed Sangi a few minutes after closure the officials were already busy with counting the votes and gave the estimate of “200 to 300 men and a few dozen women”.
All in all the voting-process itself went rather correctly in these three polling-centres, except for the suspicious sudden rush of women at one centre. But let’s see what kind of participation will be suggested in the official results.
* Christoph Reuter is a reporter with Stern magazine in Germany and regularly travels to Afghanistan. This blog was written for AAN (with many thanks).
This article was last updated on 5 Jun 2020