It was already dark and Afghanistan‘s elections had been over since three hours. Then suddenly two men accompanied by three police cars with armed and uniformed escorts showed up in front of the polling site in Kandahar’s Aino Mena neighbourhood. Very relaxed they entered the premises where ballot boxes where waiting to be picked up – and stuffed additional ballots into the boxes for the presidential and provincial council elections. “No one dared to stop them”, says Haji Gulalai who represented Muhammad Ehsan, the hitherto deputy head of the provincial council here. By WILLI GERMUND*
“We have seen things like this happen all over the city of Kandahar”, explains Muhammad Ehsan on Friday, the day after the elections. He himself had made it into the council again, despite the fraud. “But we do not know whether this happened in the districts too, because we do not have those figures yet.” Local observers report that this miraculous nocturnal proliferation of votes happened in all polling sites of the city.
Occurrences like this were supposed to be prevented by the rule that says that the first provisional counting results were to be publicly displayed outside the polling stations immediately after counting. But this did not stop the fraudsters.
“We had 100 votes in a box at a polling station in the Mirwais Mena neighborhood at closing time”, says Abdul Wali who was an observer there. “But today, at the second count in the Qul-e Urdu – the Afghan army base – suddenly there were 600 ballot papers in the box.” This compound which was hit by a Taleban rocket during the election on Thursday is the seat of the Kandahar branch of the election commission. All ballot boxed are brought there after the first count in the polling station and tallied again.
Mohammed Ehsan who was the deputy of Ahmad Wali Karzai, the president’s brother over the last four year, did not want to mention names. But in Kandahar, it is an open secret that Wali Karzai and PC candidates Said Jan und Haji Hafizullah are behind the miraculous proliferation of votes. Their representatives on Friday denied these accusations, however.
Kandahar’s massive vote fraud happened in a well-organised manner in all polling sites of the city and, according to first reports coming in, in similar ways in the other district of the province. The election commission in Kandahar, meanwhile, in unofficial statements indicated a 60% turnout on Friday. But in Zahir Shahid polling centre in the centre of the city, there were only between 80 and 317 ballots observed in the boxes in the four rooms of the site. On average, 200 votes per box had been cast there. From noon onwards, almost no new voters showed up due to the scorching midday heat. An one-hour extension of the polling sites‘ opening time in Kandahar had no measurable impact.
Half an hour before the opening in the morning, half a dozen explosions had rocked this cradle of the Taleban. More rocket fire came during the morning hours. One hit close to the house of Wali Karzai and killed a small girl.
At 11 am, it became clear that some polling centres had only opened with delays up to two hours. In Mirwais Mena, local candidates‘ agents found boxes that already had been partly filled with ballot papers. The same was observed in Zahirshahi.
Deputy PC head Mohammed Ehsan relates how he was approached two weeks before the elections by two IEC (Independent Election Commission) staff menbers offering him filled ballot boxes containing 600 votes for 1,000 euros. If he were able to come up with the voter cards himself, the price would be lower: 600 euros. According to various candidates, bundles of voters’ cards of 9,000 to 12,000 were available for a price of one to two US dollars each in the black market in the weeks before the elections. They were offered by relatives of IEC staff members.
Security also played a role. According to many Kandaharis, the men of the families decided to vote but did not allow the rest of their families to do so. On election day, the streets were blocked for all cars, except those with a special permit. Policemen were posted at all street corners, soldiers in armoured vehicles at strategic positions. No one was allowed to leave the city. The ANA (Afghanistan National Army) had laid an iron ring around Kandahar already two weeks before, to keep out the Taleban.
The Kandaharis did not need radio or TV to understand that it could become rather dangerous in the streets. The thunder of explosions was audible all day. Via mobile phones the news spread that a suicide bomber had been arrested next to Mirwais School. Another one blew himself up but did not hurt anyone.
In the afternoon of election day, Ahmad Wali Karzai went in front of TV cameras and laid the foundation for the election fraud: “We faced a few security challenges”, he said. “But we are happy about the high turnout.” He gave high figures from the districts while local candidates’ agents were at the same time reporting that “from time to time one or two people are entering the polling sites”.
In Arghandab, a district under partial Taleban influence, no police nor ANA showed up at opening of the polling stations. Turnout was even lower there than in other districts. Two weeks before the elections, the Taleban caught a supporter of candidate Muhammed Ehsan, beat him up and blackened his face. Then, they paraded him through the village like a thief.
* Willi Germund is a freelance journalist for German, Swiss and Austrian newspapers. He regularly vists Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is a slightly abriged version of the article ‘Wahlfälschung auf Afghanisch’ that was printed in the Berliner Zeitung on 22 August 2009.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020