The election in the largely Hazara provinces of Bamyan and Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal district of Ghor province went relatively smoothly, albeit with two technical problems that were ubiquitous – slow and (temporarily) malfunctioning Biometric Voter Verification (BVV) devices and disturbing instances of voters being turned away because their names were not on the voter list noted everywhere. However, turnout was low compared to past elections, despite the fact that these are relatively safe provinces with a highly-motivated electorate. Most votes appear to have been cast for Dr Abdullah, with voters blaming Ghani rather than Abdullah for the national unity government’s failings. AAN’s researcher Ali Yawar Adili spent a week traveling in the region and here describes the election day, reasons for the low turnout and what people said about why they had voted, or did not, for the major contenders. The polling centre manager helps control female voters queuing to cast their ballots during the extended polling time, at the Shinya Madrasa, Bamyan.
Photo: Ali Yawar Adili, 28 September 2019
AAN visited five polling centres in Bamyan on election day. After that, we travelled to Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal district of Ghor to gather information on what happened there.
This dispatch is organised as follows:
- Detailed observations of election day in Bamyan province
- Report of how the election went in Daikundi, with observations of data transfer from polling centres to the IEC in Kabul
- Report of how the election went in Lal wa Sarjangal
- Complaints recorded
- Turnout statistics and analysis of why turnout was low
- Discussion of why Abdullah gained the majority of votes in these provinces and district, including:
- Comparison of support for Abdullah in 2014 and 2019
- Ghani’s strong mobilisation of elite support
- Reasons why Hazara voters largely voted for Abdullah
Observations in Bamyan: election day polling
In Bamyan city on election day, AAN observed the following polling centres:
- Markaz Bamyan Boys High School (1001007)
AAN visited Markaz Bamyan Boys High School at around 6:45. Between 20 and 30 people were queuing outside the polling centre. The polling station officials were pretty much on time. The centre had 12 polling stations (nine male and three female).
At around 7:30, one voter was turned away from polling station 01 because his name was not on the list. Another voter whose name had been registered in Lalakhel Mosque was also turned away. AAN saw another voter, named Ghulam Hassan, register a complaint with the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) observer because his name had not been on the list at station 06. The chairperson said the biometric device showed that his name was registered in another province. Around 9 am, Mahram, another voter, said he had registered at the same polling centre during the top-up voter registration, but now was not allowed to vote. However, his sticker showed that he had registered at Kart-e Solh High School. A woman named Ruqia also said the biometric device had not shown her name.
AAN also came across a journalist from RTA (Radio Television of Afghanistan) who complained that the polling centre manager had not allowed them to video the women’s polling stations. Mahdiya Rezayi, the head of Bamyan’s provincial ECC, who at the time was visiting the polling centre, along with the head of Bamyan provincial Independent Election Commission (IEC) Qasem Qasim, also told them not to record video. She argued that it was already hard enough to convince women to have their photos captured by the Biometric Voter Verification (BVV) devices and if the journalists videoed them as well, the women would only be further discouraged from voting.
One Bamyan provincial IEC official told AAN that Ghani’s State-Builder team had encouraged women to protest against the IEC decision to photograph them on election day. The official said that in Du-Ab Madras polling centre in Kahmard district, women did not want to be photographed. He said he talked to the mawlawi of the madrasa on the phone who promised he would take his wife to the station to be photographed first. Also, according to the IEC official, some women in Bamyan Boys High School had said they would not allow women to be photographed.
The biometric device at female station 10 stalled; it took five minutes to fix it. Five days after the election on 2 October, the head of Bamyan provincial IEC told AAN that only seven contingency devices had been used across Bamyan, not because the devices they replaced stopped functioning but because they had been “functioning slowly.”
- Directorate of Teacher Training (1001001)
AAN then visited the Directorate of Teacher Training in Dasht-e Esa Khan of Bamyan centre. It had nine (five male and four female) polling stations.
AAN saw Muhammad Haidar, aged 78 from Sarasyab of Bamyan, who said he had registered in the Boys High School during the top-up voter registration to vote in the Directorate of Teacher Training, but his name was not on the digital biometric list. Another voter, Zaki Sher Ahmad, said he had voted there in the 2018 parliamentary election, but now found his name was missing. One candidate agent at station 05 told AAN that four people’s names had not been found on the list and one person’s thumb had not been accepted by the biometric device; they left without voting. Kubra Hakimi, the polling centre manager, told AAN on 7 October that 1,522 (46 per cent) of 3,298 registered voters had voted in the centre.
- Kart-e Solh High School (1001008)
AAN visited Kart-e Solh High School around 12 noon. It had eight (four male and four female) polling stations. Only 777 people (30.78 per cent) out of 2,524 registered voters had voted by the time of the visit. AAN observed that the employees were enjoying lunch all at the same time and that no one was coming to vote; it was as if it was also lunchtime for the voters. Shakila, the identification officer at one of the stations, who had also worked as identification officer at Dahan-e Nayak in Dragon Valley in the 2018 parliamentary election, told AAN, “We didn’t have time even to sip tea in the 2018 parliamentary election, but today we have loads of time to relax and enjoy our lunch.” (1)
- Madrasa-ye Shinya polling centre (1001012)
AAN visited Madrasa-ye Shinya polling centre in Shinya of Fuladi valley with its six (three male and three female) polling stations between 3 and 4:30 pm, during the extra opening time. Only 951 (50 per cent) out of 1,895 voters had voted by then. (2)
A BVV operator takes a photo of a voter’s face, while a ballot controller looks on, the ballot box controller waits and a group of agents and observers look on at the Shinya Madrasa in Foladi, Bamyan. Photo: Ali Yawar Adili, 28 September 2019
There were a number of polling agents and observers in the male section. AAN saw four for Abdullah, one for Jalili and two for Hekmatyar. AAN also saw observers for the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) in the male section, Afghanistan Civil Society Forum Organisation (ACSFO) in the female section and one from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in the male section; he said he had visited five to six centres and found problems with the BVV devices and voter lists to be the main issues. He estimated turnout at around 40 per cent.
The ECC observer in the centre told AAN that seven voters had registered complaints because they had not been able to vote. After the IEC’s mid-day decision to allow voters whose names were not on the list to vote, he called these voters to come back. He said that some had returned, but not all. The ECC observer also said that three policemen who had registered to vote at Sayyedabad Girls High School had wanted to vote at the Shinya Madrasa polling centre, but were not allowed to since they were not on duty at that centre.
A polling station official reads the results out to the BVV operator for him to enter into the BVV digital form after the count in Sayyed Abad Girls High School, Bamyan. Photo: Ali Yawar Adili, 28 September 2019
The BVV operator of station 02 told AAN he thought the reason for the low turnout was that people did not believe their votes would determine who would be president. The station chairperson told AAN that people were busy harvesting the potato crop.
Shirin Gul, the chairperson of female station 06, told AAN that four voters’ names had been deleted from the BVV list at her station and she had not received any instructions to allow them to vote or to call them back. She said that in the 2018 parliamentary election, 570 voters had voted in her station and they had worked until 9 pm, but at the time of the interview in the late afternoon, only 162 had voted.
The head of Bamyan IEC, Qasem Qasim, later told AAN that they faced constraints in communicating instructions to the polling centres due to the limited mobile phone coverage in the province. He said only 80 out of 219 polling centres had coverage. He said there had been a particular problem in Yakawlang Two district, which, he said, received coverage from Ghor where there were telecommunication disruptions on election day. Qasim said they tried to communicate the IEC decision to the polling centres as far as they could and had also asked the Sawq wa Edara (Command and Control) to communicate it to polling centres through other means. He, however, admitted that it had not been possible to communicate the decision to all centres. He also took issue with the decision itself, saying, “Technically, the IEC should not have taken such a decision. This was like the death of the election.”
- Sayyedabad Girls High School
AAN also visited Sayyedabad Girls High School of Bamyan. It had nine (five male and four female) polling stations. At the end of the day 1,345 out of 3,600 registered voters (42 per cent) had voted. (3) In stations 01, one person named Baqer had registered twice; his name had been deleted entirely as a result of the ‘de-duplication’; it turns out that in the de-duplication process, the IEC removes both duplicates since the voter is considered to have committed an electoral violation). Station officials told AAN they were unaware of the IEC’s decision to allow people who had registered but could not be found on the BVV lists to vote. There were agents for Hekmatyar, Jalili, Nabil, Ghani and Abdullah in the station, one for each. AAN observed the count in some of the polling stations and noticed that some of the BVV device operators did not know well how to enter the results into the pre-installed digital result form in the device; they sought help from the polling station chairpersons or officials.
BVV device showing that only 173 out of 400 registered voters have voted at a polling station in Sayyed Abad Girls High School, Bamyan centre; the results have been entered but not yet transmitted. Photo: Ali Yawar Adili, 28 September 2019
Observations in Daikundi, including transfer of data
AAN travelled to Daikundi on 29 September to gather information on how the election went there. Among a number of interviewees who reported technical problems with the vote was Sultan Jawadi, a journalist with Rah-e Farda TV and Radio, and Radio Nasim. He said, for example, he had gone to Chahardar High school at around 10:00 and seen around ten people there leaving without voting after having found their names were missing from the voter list. Sharif Ashrafi, chief observer for AFCSO, which had deployed 89 observers in eight out of Daikundi’s nine districts, including the provincial centre (with Ashtarlay and Nawamish excluded as per their donor’s decision), said their observations showed the technical problems with BVV (getting hot and hanging up or the operators not knowing how to operate) and voters’ names missing from the voter list. He said the scale of the voter list problem in certain centres was very high. He said, for example, in one polling station of Sarf village Girls High School of Shahrestan, only 52 people out of 400 registered voters had been on the voter list and the rest had been prevented from voting due to their names not being on the list.
An IT officer sits in the Daikundi IEC provincial office, transmitting the results to the server at the IEC headquarters on 30 September, two days after the election. Photo: Ali Yawar Adili, 30 September 2019
ACSFO’s observations showed a low turnout, 100,000 to 118,000 across the province. Ashrafi said they had not found any “evidence of fraud in Daikundi at all.” He said there had been some complaints, but “mainly against IEC officials’ behaviours, unawareness and inability to operate BVV devices properly.” Their observation of the result sheets indicated that up to 70 to 75 per cent of votes had gone to Abdullah.
On 30 September, two days after the election, AAN visited Daikundi IEC where Esmatullah Naseri, general manager of IT, and Habibullah Sadr, IT officer, were still transmitting the results from the BVVs to the central server in Kabul (a third person employed by UNDP as an adviser was helping with transmitting the results. AAN was told that UNDP had hired two advisers per province, one for the provincial IEC and one for the provincial ECC). According to Naseri, in Daikundi a total of 977 biometric devices had been allocated to 274 polling centres, with 774 polling stations (each polling centre had an extra in case of malfunction). They had transmitted the results of six districts by 30 September (Nili, Shahrestan, Kiti, Miramur, Khedir, Pato) and expected to finish transmission of the results by midnight (since the IEC headquarters had told them to transmit all data before 8 am of the next day, 1 October). Naseri said they had started transmitting the data at 8 pm on election day in the absence of agents and observers, but had asked the agents to come the following day to observe the process. He said they had not faced any errors in sending all these results, but did not know whether the data had been saved properly: “If the data is not saved properly, it will not process. And when the phases are completed, the device shuts down.”
There was one printer which contained a security code. Sadr showed how they hooked up each BVV device to this printer. The security code of the printer activated the device and allowed it to send the results. Some devices did not have enough charge and first needed to be charged before they could be activated.
Reports of the election in Lal wa Sarjangal
Lal wa Sarjangal, Ghor’s most eastern (and only Hazara) district (see AAN’s reporting here) had 44 polling centres with 143 polling stations (75 male and 68 female) with 42,566 voters (22,345 male and 20,221 female). AAN travelled to Lal on 1 October and talked to observers and people there. The same problems seen in Bamyan and Daikundi had also been observed in Lal wa Sarjangal. Hamid Daneshyar, civil society activist and AFSCO observer, told AAN the biometric devices at Maktab Dahan-e Chakah High School polling centre had gone down at a certain point and needed to be restarted. He also said he took photos of at least three tazkeras whose holders could not vote because their names were not on the list. Daneshyar claimed he had shown the IEC ruling to the polling centre manager who rejected it as not credible. He said he would not accept it until he was called by the IEC.
Muhammad Ali Shakib, another ACSFO observer, in both the 2018 parliamentary and 2019 presidential elections, told AAN he had observed the Boys High School in Sarjangal. He said that almost one in every ten people found their names had been “deleted” from the list and were turned away without being able to vote.
Both Daneshyar and Shakib said Abdullah had won a majority of the votes cast in their polling stations. Shakib said Abdullah had received 95 votes in one station and 90 in another, while Ghani had received 18 votes in one station and 11 in another, and Nabil respectively 23 and 30 (AAN cannot confirm the figures).
Arefa Sadat, a biometric operator in a female polling station in Imam Ali polling centre, told AAN the biometric devices were of better quality than in 2018. She said that when she had been a FEFA observer in the 2018 parliamentary election in the same polling centre, the BVV devices had been extremely poor quality. She said that to operate the device, this time, she had received five days of training in Ghor’s provincial centre and that had been sufficient: “Even in one day, I learned how to operate the BVV devices.” She said that, following the IEC’s election day decision, they allowed people whose names were not on the list to vote. Giving a technical explanation of how it worked, she said that after they inserted the sticker number, they would not go to the list option and instead choose the second option designed to biometrically verify the polling station officials and military who were allowed to vote in polling centre where they were on duty.
The head of the secretariat of Bamyan’s provincial ECC told AAN a day before the election that no complaints had been registered about the period of the campaign in Bamyan. He cited the following possible reasons: first, peace talks were on-going during much of the campaign period and people did not believe the election would be held. Second, there had been no actual campaigning, so: “No campaign, no violations and no complaints.” Third, the presidential election was seen as being between a few people at the national level; their supporters at the local level tended not to engage in complaints against each other.
Daikundi provincial ECC commissioner and spokesman Ghulam Reza Mirzazada told AAN that, two days after the election, they had registered three complaints about the campaign: one was rejected as invalid, the second resulted in the dismissal of two IEC officials who had participated in a campaign rally held by Abdullah’s Stability and Integration team in Kejran and the third involved Hadi Rahimizada, an adviser to Second Vice-President Sarwar Danesh, who had participated in Ghani’s State-Builder election campaign (Rahimizada had actually been appointed as the head of Ghani-Danesh’s campaign in Daikundi). Rahimizada had told the ECC that he had resigned, but later on, documents showed that it was not the case. He was given a cash fine. (4)
Regarding election day complaints, Mirzadzada said the ECC had 10 nazem or district field coordinators (one in each district) and 274 observers with complaint forms in 274 polling centres (one in each). The observers had received training in the office on how to register complaints. People could lodge complaints regarding election day until 48 hours after the election, so until 5 pm of 30 September. When AAN spoke to him on 30 September, he said the ECC had registered 16 complaints about election day in Daikundi. He said the ECC had 15 days to adjudicate the complaints and after the decision was issued and communicated to the relevant people, they would then have three days to appeal (the central ECC then needs to adjudicate any appeals against the provincial ECC decisions within 15 days, according to article 91 of the electoral law).
Turnout figures for Bamyan
On 3 October, Bamyan Provincial IEC office provided AAN with the following breakdown of the votes. The statistics for registered voters and percentage turnout were calculated by AAN. According to the IEC’s figures, a total of 84,780 votes were cast in Bamyan, giving a total percentage turnout of 49 per cent. The vote was almost evenly split between men (51 per cent) and women (49 per cent).
||Name of district
Source: voter figures from Bamyan IEC, registered voter figures from the IEC’s polling centre list
According to the IEC’s list, a total of 171,475 people had registered to vote (head of Bamyan provincial IEC Qasim provided a slightly different number of 171,702). The turnout for both figures is around 49 per cent.
As the table shows, Kahmard had the lowest percentage turnout (33 per cent), followed by Saighan (36 per cent) and Shiber (36 per cent). At the higher end, Panjab had the largest percentage turnout (61 per cent), followed by Waras (57 per cent), Yakawlang 2 (52 per cent), Yakawlang 1 (52 per cent) and then Bamyan centre (51 per cent). In terms of absolute numbers – which matter more in terms of the result – Bamyan centre, Waras and Yakawlang 1 provided the most votes.
Bamyan province was allocated a total of 220 polling centres with 649 stations (327 male and 322 female). Only one polling centre (with two polling stations) did not open on election day – Sar-e Qundi Baghak Madrasa in Imandab of Shiber district. The head of Bamyan IEC said this was due to a high security threat and lack of access routes, which meant the security forces could not transport their equipment or election material there (see also his interview here).
One Bamyan IEC official told AAN on the day after the election, 29 September, that a total of 3,239 people had observed the election in Bamyan: 2,816 agents affiliated with parties and candidates, 396 domestic observers and 27 journalists. The official also said that some others might have had their observer cards stamped at the IEC headquarters in Kabul; their number was unknown to him.
A total of 125,802 valid votes were cast in Bamyan in the 2018 Wolesi Jirga election. The IEC website does not show whether or not there were disqualified votes in Bamyan (which would imply that the original turnout, before vetting, had been even higher). This shows a decrease of at least 41,022 votes between the 2018 and 2019 election (or 33 per cent of the 2018 total). The number of votes cast this time – 84,780 votes – was also a lot lower than in 2014 presidential election when around 170,000 and 176,323 were reported in the first and second round respectively (see AAN’s reporting here).
Turnout figures for Daikundi
A total of 277 polling centres were allocated to Daikundi province. Three of them (one in Pato and two in Kejran) did not register voters due to insecurity. The remaining 274 planned polling centres with 604 polling stations, which had registered a total of 182,057 voters, were all reported to have opened on election day. (5) On 30 September, Daikundi provincial IEC officials provided AAN with the following figures for the turnout in Daikundi. Again, the number of registered voters and percentage turnout were calculated by AAN. In total, 121,544 votes were cast, which gives a provincial turnout of 67 per cent.
||Name of district
Source: voter figures from Daikundi IEC, registered voter figures from the IEC’s polling centre list
As the table shows, Ashtarlay has had the highest reported turnout (97 per cent), followed by Sangtakht (79 per cent) and Miramur (76 per cent). One possible explanation for the near complete turnout in Ashtarlay is that President Ghani’s second running-mate Sarwar Danesh and Ehsan Haidari, Latif Pedram’s first running-mate, are both from this district (see their background in AAN’s reporting here). Asadullah Amini, the deputy district governor of Ashtarlay, told AAN on 7 October that partisan affiliations are, in general, very high in the district, which could have galvanised the turnout. Still, the percentages seem overly high.
The turnout in Daikundi as a whole was 13 per cent lower than in the 2018 parliamentary election, when a total of 134,695 (81 per cent) votes out of a total of then 166,942 registered voters were cast (a top-up voter registration was carried out after this, in June 2019, in preparation for the presidential poll). In 2018, Daikundi was named by the IEC as one of four provinces with the highest turnout (the other three were Kabul, Herat and Nangrahar). In absolute numbers, the turnout in 2018 was lower than in the 2014 and 2010 elections, when respectively 171,842 and 150,256 voters cast their votes.
Daikundi provincial IEC officials told AAN on 9 October they were still working on the exact figure about the male and female turnout, but said that around 52 per cent of the voters had been women (there had also been a higher number of female voter registration). Amanullah Habibi, the head of Daikundi IEC, said he had been told by residents this was because “men have gone to Iran or other countries for work. Also, women have more rights and freedom here.” If the IEC officially confirms it, the high women’s turnout would be a repetition of the trend in 2018, reported by AAN here).
Muhammad Amir Farhang, External Relations Officer of the Daikundi provincial IEC, said a total of 2,030 observer cards had been presented to them for approval and stamping. 208 were rejected because they were duplicates or printed against the observer procedures; the remaining 1,822 were approved and stamped by the IEC. This included 1,440 candidate agents, 329 domestic observers, 50 coordinators and three reporters for the national television. He also said that TEFA, which had its observer cards stamped at the IEC headquarters in Kabul, had 55 observers in Daikundi, while Election Transparency Watch Organisation of Afghanistan (ETWA) had seven of its observer cards stamped at the IEC headquarters.
Turnout figures for Lal wa Sarjangal
On 10 October, AAN got the following voter figures, broken down by district from a Ghor provincial IEC official. They show a 35 per cent turnout for the whole of Ghor (made up of 61 per cent men and 39 per cent women). Lal wa Sarjangal had, by far, the highest turnout.
||Name of district
||Lal wa Sarjangal
Source: voter figures from Ghor IEC, registered voters from the IEC’s polling centre list
As the table shows, Dolaina had the lowest turnout (0.36 per cent, with only 60 voters) followed by Tolak (0.50 per cent; 111 voters) and Pasaband (1.64 per cent; 83 voters). Lal wa Sarjangal had the highest percentage turnout (49.49 per cent of the residents who had registered voted). In terms of absolute numbers, the votes in Lal wa Sarjangal constituted almost one third of the total votes cast in Ghor province.
The IEC official also gave AAN a list of the 73 centres with 319 polling stations (201 male and 118 female) which were closed on election day in Ghor province. The list includes: 23 centres in Chaghcheran (aka Firuzkoh), 14 in Dolaina, eight in Dawlatyar, four in Charsada, four in Pasaband, four in Shahrak, five in Taiwara, nine in Tolak and two in Saghar. With these closures, it seems a total of 97,522 voters (66,512 male and 31,010 female) were deprived of the opportunity to vote.
Reasons for the low turnout
The 2019 turnout in Bamyan and Daikundi was reasonably good compared to many other provinces and some districts had very high reported turnouts. However, in general, turnout was considerably lower than in both the 2018 parliamentary election and 2014 presidential election. Given that these two provinces are relatively secure and have what in 2014, we called a “highly motivated electorate,” the low turnout prompts the question of why this was the case. Residents, civil society activists and journalists gave the following possible reasons for this.
In some districts, insecurity appears to have dampened turnout. Sultan Jawadi, a journalist with Rah-e Farda television and radio (as well as a local radio station called Radio Nasim) said insecurity had been a factor in Daikundi in the districts of Nawamish, Pato and Kejran (a polling centre in Buk-e Suf in Kejran came under fire on election day and was temporarily closed (AAN’s election day reporting here). As the table above shows, Kejran had the lowest relative turnout in Daikundi (40 per cent) followed by Nawamish (45 per cent) and Pato (48 per cent). Sharif Ashrafi, chief observer for ACSFO in Daikundi, told AAN on 30 September that insecurity was “serious this year” and “although the Taleban could not close down any polling centre, people in Kejran and Pato thought there would be attacks by the Taleban and this fear of affected people’s turnout.” The three relatively insecure districts of Bamyan (Kahmard, Saighan and Shiber) also had the lowest relative turnout in that province.
Insecurity also affected the turnout in a different way: people who often travel back and forth to Kabul did not vote. For instance, Alem, a driver from Kakrak village, which is close to Bamyan centre, told AAN the day before the election that he would not vote because he takes people back and forth to Kabul: “If the Taleban catch me in Jalriz [with an inky finger],” he said, “they will slaughter me.” Another dimension of insecurity affecting the turnout was the sticker on the tazkera. People, who often travel and need to carry their tazkeras with them, had not registered in the first place.
Second, some interviewees thought the fact that the provincial council elections were not held at the same time also decreased participation. A polling station queue controller at Kart-e Solh High School told AAN that the provincial council election could have “localised the electoral competitions at the district and clan levels. Also, some people are not a big fan of the president to go to the polls for him.” As a result, he said, there had been little localised campaigning and thus less public awareness. In the previous presidential election, as AAN’s 2014 reporting showed, some provincial candidates provided transport for voters to go to the polls. This was highlighted by Bamyan ECC official Reza Farhang who said that “provincial candidates would send vehicles to remote areas to pick up voters. It is unlikely the presidential campaigns will provide the same facility.”
Third, because of the US-Taleban talks in Doha, many people did not think the election would be held. Journalist Jawadi said that until the last minute, people were thinking the election might be delayed. “Everyone was waiting for another tweet by President Trump,” he said, referring to President Trump’s tweet that cancelled the peace talks on 8 September, 20 days before the election (see AAN’s analysis here).
Fourth, some voters cited the fraud in the 2014 presidential election as a reason why they stayed at home, reported Jawadi from Daikundi. Civil society activist Ismail Zaki said something similar about the turnout in Bamyan: “There was a disaster in the 2014 presidential election, which led to the intervention by a foreign state to broker a compromise. This indicates that people’s votes are not counted.” He said that elections, in general, were something greatly desired by the people, “but it has become a very ineffective process.” He also said the candidates had not presented any programmes for Afghanistan that could mobilise the people and that, “They only accused and insulted each other. So there was no incentive for the people to vote.”
Finally, the inaccessibility of polling centres in parts of Daikundi was also highlighted. Ashrafi of ACSFO told AAN that polling centre accessibility had “improved significantly since 2014, but Daikundi has a difficult geography and it would be better still if the number of polling centres was further increased here because it is difficult for women to travel a long way to the polls.” The IEC had already increased the number of polling centres as a result of its 2017 polling centre assessment, for Daikundi from 184 to 256 (excluding the centres allocated to Nawamish which is in Helmand but who’s election was run out of Nili) and for Bamyan from 188 to 220 (see here).
President Ghani’s campaign manager in Daikundi, Rahimizada, told AAN his campaign team had rented three to four vehicles for each polling centre (depending on its size) to transport voters “so they can vote for any candidates they wanted.” He claimed their opponents did the same. He said they could not provide this transport in Pato and Kejran. The head of Bamyan IEC told AAN the State-Builder team had allocated three vehicles for each polling centre in Bamyan and that Abdullah’s Stability and Integration team had also provided transport. The scale was, however, considered to be much smaller than during previous elections.
Finally, in what may have been a significant factor affecting the turnout in Bamyan, as the polling station chairperson in Madrasa-ye Shinya polling centre in Foladi said, many voters were busy getting the potato harvest in.
Why Abdullah got a majority of votes in Bamyan, Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal
2019 compared to 2014
From AAN’s observations during the count on election day in Bamyan and from conversations in Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal, it seems that voters in these predominantly Hazara areas largely cast their ballots for Abdullah’s Stability and Integration ticket, with Ghani coming as a poor second. (6) This is pretty much a repetition of the 2014 vote pattern when people in Bamyan also overwhelmingly voted for Abdullah (67 and 76 per cent of Bamyan’s votes respectively in the first and second rounds, against Ghani’s 11 and 24 per cent, see AAN’s reporting here).
Observers from ACSFO in Bamyan, Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal, as well as people in general, told AAN that their observations of the count showed between 70 to 80 per cent of the votes had gone to Abdullah. This does not match AAN’s, albeit limited observations, which found Abdullah’s vote to be around 60 per cent. However, the voting patterns might be more nuanced, varying from centre to centre and district to district in both Bamyan and Daikundi.
Even Hadi Rahimizada, head of Ghani and Danesh’s campaign office in Daikundi, referred to the fact that Abdullah had won the majority of votes. His estimate of Ghani votes was far higher than AAN’s and other observers: 30,000 compared with 62,000 for Abdullah.
Although voting patterns seem similar to those of 2014, the reasons for what appears to be a clear majority of votes for Abdullah seem to be slightly different.
The first issue is the make-up of the teams. In 2014, Abdullah stood with Engineer Muhammad Khan, a Pashtun from Ghazni from Hezb-e Islami and, more importantly for this region, Muhammad Mohaqeq, the influential Hazara leader and leader of Hezb-e Wahdat-e Mardum-e Afghanistan. Ghani stood with Uzbek leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Sarwar Danesh, a Hazara and member of another Wahdat faction led by former Vice-President Karim Khalili.
In 2019, Ghani stood with Amrullah Saleh, a Tajik from Panjshir, and Danesh again. Abdullah, meanwhile, had running mates who are less well known, but have heavy-weight backers: Enayatullah Babur Farahmand, Uzbek and Vice-President Dostum’s former chief of staff and Asadullah Sadati, a close aide of Khalili (see AAN’s reporting here). While both Danesh and Sadati have been members of Khalili’s Wahdat party, the party came up with a resolution after a consultative meeting in late June throwing the party behind Sadati and to the unhappiness of Danesh (AAN’s reporting here). Mohaqeq who was Atmar’s second running-mate rejoined Abdullah after the disintegration of Atmar’s ticket (AAN’s reporting here and here).
In 2014, as AAN reported, people in Bamyan voted for Abdullah because Mohaqeq “carried more weight” than the ‘intellectual’ Sarwar Danesh (and also the Hazara second running mate of then candidate Zalmai Rasul, Habiba Sarabi). They viewed Abdullah as a mother-tongue Dari speaker (despite his father being Pashtun), while Ghani, a Pashtun with a Kuchi family background, found it difficult to attract votes from people who do not have good memories of dealing with Kuchis. In 2014, both Danesh and his main backer, Karim Khalili, were also less attractive because they had been in government (minister for justice and then higher education, and second vice president respectively), while Mohaqeq had been in opposition and critical of the government. Finally, several of the top candidates in the 2014 provincial council elections supported Abdullah and vice versa.
Strong pre-election mobilisation from the Ghani team
Sarwar Barlas, civil society activist, lecturer at Naser Khushraw Institute of Higher Education in Niili and reporter with Aftab Radio, told AAN on 30 October pointed out that, “Ghani spent more money and co-opted the elders of Daikundi, but these things did not change the public perception of him.” Barlas believed “the people were influenced by negative propaganda against Ghani.” Ghani’s rallying of local elite ‘influencers’ was extensive. Along with second running-mate Danesh, he had enlisted the support of three out of Daikundi’s four MPs, five out of its eight provincial council members and several local influential figures, as well as three out of Bamyan’s four MPs, all eight provincial council members, one of the province’s two senators and several major influential figures, such as former MPs Safura Elkhani and Ustad Muhammad Akbari (who is currently an appointed senator), and former deputy governor Asef Mubalegh (Ghani’s campaign manager in Bamyan). (7)
Ghani’s State-Builder team also ran the liveliest campaign in Bamyan. Muhammad Nader Shafaq, a 2018 parliamentary candidate from Bamyan, told AAN on 26 September that the Ghani’s team provincial council led by Ustad Akbari consisted of all the aligned notables, as well as the heads of nine campaign offices. These nine offices, he said, had been set up by Danesh, Amrullah Saleh’s Green Trend, Hezb-e Harasat-e Islami (formerly Hezb-e Wahdat-e Melli), Hezb-e Ensejam led by Sadeq Mudabber, Karzai’s head of office of administrative affairs, Ghani’s campaign manager Muhammad Omar Daudzai, Ghani’s informal third vice-presidential candidate Yusuf Ghazanfar, MP Sayyed Muhammad Jamal Fakuri Beheshti, former MP Safura Elkhani, and Tawasuli, an influential figure originally from Behsud.
In Lal wa Sarjangal, the State-Builder team was supported by three out of the district’s four provincial council members, Muhammad Mahdawi, Gulsum Rezayi, Ghulam Sakhi Jawid; the fourth, Abdul Hamid Nateqi, who is affiliated with Hezb-e Melat led by former MP Jafar Mahdawi, supported Nabil. Ghani’s team was also supported by the district’s two MPs, Ruqia Nayel and Fatema Kohestani (Ghor has six MPs two of whom were elected from Lal wa Sarjangal in the 2018 election), as well as former MP Bahr (a member of Harasat). Haidar Ali Etemadi, a High Peace Council member and representative of Khalili’s Wahdat-e Islami faction, had also defected from his party, which is supporting Abdullah, to join Ghani’s team. Four campaign offices in the district were run by Kohestani, Nayel, Bahr and Etemadi in support of Ghani (Danesh had reportedly supported Kohestani and Nail in 2018 parliamentary election).
A smaller number of influential people supported Abdullah. These included Khudayar Kudsi, a jihadi commander affiliated with Khalili who became his party representative in Lal wa Sarjangal after Etemadi’s defection, 2018 parliamentary candidate Muhammad Reza Lali (who has become known as ‘Reza Dollar’ in the district because of his wealth), and former provincial council member Hussain Bakhsh Safari. Both Lali and Safari are said to be affiliated with Mohaqeq who supported Abdullah.
Why did people largely vote for Abdullah?
With all this political mobilisation and high degree of co-option, the question is: why did Ghani not win the votes of more people in those provinces? AAN’s interlocutors highlighted following possible reasons why people did not vote for Ghani:
First, as journalist Jawadi underscored, many people are still upset about the government’s decision to reroute the planned TUTAP power line from Bamyan to Salang (see this AAN’s reporting here). Although Chief Executive Abdullah was also part of the decision-making and did not support the Hazaras’ demand to route the power line through Bamyan (8), President Ghani seems to have borne the brunt of the anger.
Second, there is the issue of insecurity in general and the increasing insecurity on the roads into the Hazarajat and in the Hazarajat in particular. Sarwar Mirzayi, the owner of a makeshift restaurant in Sangchelag village of Khedir district of Daikundi, said that during President Ghani’s tenure, seven to eight people from his village who had been in the army and police had been killed. “That is why the people called him ‘coffin-builder’ [a play on ‘state-builder’].”
Jawadi also spoke about trying to get through Jalriz district in Maidan Wardak province through which lies the main route from Kabul to Behsud district and from there north to Bamyan and south and west to Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal. Less than a month before the election, on 3 September, the Taleban had abducted the acting head of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s office in Ghor province as he travelled through Jalriz and killed him two days later (see AHIHRC’s statements here and here).
Yusuf Halimi, a teacher from Muhr village of Shahrestan who also runs a shop in Ulqan bazaar, also raised the issue of Hazara commander, Alipur, also known by the nom de guerre, Qomandan Shamsher, (Commander Sword). Many Hazaras regard him as the leader of a ‘resistance front’ protecting people in Behsud from the Taleban and Kuchis (whom locals consider as invading their land (see AAN reporting here). The government considers him the leader of an illegal militia and has accused him of carrying out ‘tit for tat’ abuses against Pashtun travellers on the Kabul to Behsud road. In October 2018, it sent security forces to arrest Alipur while he visited Lal wa Sarjangal; that ended in a shootout and 12 people killed. The following month, a second arrest attempt was made when Alipur visited west Kabul, but the government was forced to release him after clashes with protesters (media report here).
The teacher Halimi said people had heard Ghani say he would arrest Alipur after the election and they disagreed with this. “Alipur is not a bad guy,” he said. “He only protects Jalrez highway so that people are not dragged out of their cars and slaughtered.” Ghani, in an interview with Shamshad television, had indeed said he would ‘implement the law’ on Alipur after the election. A video clip of this was shared on social media by Abdullah’s Hazara supporters. Alipur also backed Abdullah’s ticket – see his photo here in a campaign rally attended by Khalili and Mohaqeq in Behsud.
Both Halimi and Jawadi also raised a third issue, the ‘Kankor quota’. This is a scheme approved by the cabinet in late 2018 which ensures 25 per cent places at university is shared between Afghanistan’s eight regions and candidates from the Kuchi community in order to ensure that students from every region have a chance for higher education. It is considered detrimental to Hazaras who tend to do well on a national basis in the university entry exam, the Kankor. “How can going to university be based on a quota?” asked Halimi. “This means that people are not entering based on their talent and mind, but based on their geography. Their geography and region do not study.”
Hadi Rahimizada, head of Ghani and Danesh’s campaign office in Daikundi, said Hazaras there largely voting for Abdullah had come as no surprise: “It is very clear. We had predicted it. Because the Hazaras who are discontented with Ghani have pumped pessimism among the people against him, using issues from the Kankur to Daesh attacks, to Hazara generals [a reference to the new age requirements on generals in the security services which has led to many generals – of all ethnicities – retiring]. They employed negative propaganda.”
Rahimizada also referred to what he called a “historical pessimism” towards Pashtun candidates that had been tah neshin shoda (building up) since the time of King Abdul Rahman (reigning 1880 to 1901). He played down the role of the two influential Hazara leaders Mohaqeq and Khalili (both of whom supported Abdullah this year) in bringing Daikundi’s votes to Abdullah. He asked, for example, how many votes Karzai had got from the Hazaras in the 2009 presidential election, despite the fact that both Khalili and Mohaqeq had supported him. In 2009, Ramazan Bashardost, a popular Hazara MP, was a candidate and won (see this NDI report) the “in the Hazara-majority areas.” Rahimizada said the fact that the majority of Daikundi’s votes had been cast for Abdullah in this year’s election was not because of his popularity, or that of Mohaqeq and Khalili, but because “the people have been ram karda [scared off – by Pashtun candidates].”
Rahimizada also played down the role of the MPs supporting Ghani: “MPs do not own their constituents’ votes. It [their support for one or another candidate] has some effect, but the actual level of its impact is very low.” Rahimizada claimed there had been a slight difference in voting in districts such as Ashtarlay, Kiti, Khedir and Pato, where Ghani got relatively more votes than in other districts (but not more than Abdullah). In Pato, this was because Ghani had approved Pato as a new, separate district and people were happy with him. In Kiti, he said, there is a tribal structure and most of the tribal chiefs were with Danesh and Ghani. Khedir, he claimed, was home to elders of Hezb Wahdat such as Haji Musa Etemadi, a famous commander, as well as new “farhangi people” (cultural activists and educated young people) who understand Danesh and thus supported him. Also, Ashtarlay is Danesh’s home district.
Daneshyar, the AFCSO observer in Lal wa Sarjangal, provided a different perspective on why Ghani did not win the majority of the votes in this district. He said Ghani had made a mistake in relying on co-opting current and former MPs and provincial council members; he should also have reached out to young people. The majority of people in his district voted for Abdullah (and not Ghani) also out of “a deep sense of sympathy for the Hazara leaders,” he said, “especially for Mohaqeq who was first with Atmar and, when his team fell apart, returned to Abdullah, but also for Khalili, because Danesh had become vice president with Khalili’s support and then had distanced himself from him.” Daneshyar also said Mohaqeq and Khalili had exploited the situation and mobilised the people against Ghani by telling them the president did not care for Hazaras or their leaders.
Conclusion: Smooth election, relatively low turnout, repetition of vote patterns
The election in Bamyan, Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal of Ghor province went relatively smoothly. However, turnout was low compared with previous elections (both parliamentary and presidential), although still higher than in many other provinces. Turnout in certain districts in both Bamyan (Kahmard, Shibar and Saighan) and Daikundi (Kejran, Nawamish and Pato) was hampered by growing insecurity. However, the main dampeners on the election were political and practical: disbelief that the election would be held, bad memories of the 2014 presidential election, the lack of a provincial council election to bolster the turnout, the potato harvest season in Bamyan and the difficult geography and paucity of transport laid on by campaign teams.
The two major election day problems observed in Bamyan (and reported in Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal) were (temporary) malfunctioning of BVV devices and an incomplete voter list. There are, however, no clear statistics of the number of voters whose names were not found on the list. Had the turnout been higher, both the problems with the BVV devices and the voter lists would have turned into a more serious problem in these provinces, as they would have done across the country.
The Hazaras in these provinces and district mainly voted for Abdullah, a repetition of their 2014 voting behaviour. However, the reasons were different and include: the controversial rerouting of the TUPAP power line, growing insecurity along the roads leading to their provinces, the controversial Kankor quota, the two influential Hazara leaders Mohaqeq and Khalili standing together behind Abdullah and the perception that the government has failed to deliver on its promises. Ghani as president seems to have borne the brunt of the discontent, despite the fact that, since 2014, Abdullah was his partner in power.
Edited by Martine van Bijlert and Kate Clark
(1) At around noon, 134 out of 400 registered voters had voted at station 01. Abdul Ghaffar, the chairperson of the station, told AAN that one person had found his name not to be on the list and another voter’s thumbs were too rough to be captured by the BVV device, so instead his index fingers were captured.
133 out of 400 registered voters had voted at station 02; three voters had been rejected and two voters’ index fingers had been captured and another voter’s middle fingers had been captured. Seizing the lunch break, a polling station official was voting at 12:30. There was only one agent for Abdullah and the rest were also said to have gone for lunch.
81 out of 220 registered voters had voted at station 03 by 12:47; three voters’ names had been found deleted from the list. There were two candidate agents at the time of visit: one for Ghani and one for Nabil.
Only 77 out of 219 registered voters had voted at polling station 04 by 12:37. Agents and observers had gone for lunch. Two voters had not been on the list due to duplicate registration and one person’s name had not been found. The BBV device had slowed down around 10:30 but started functioning well again after being restarted. One polling station official Abdul Sattar said that no technical problems had disrupted the process but the low turnout made him wander around the station.
116 out of 400 had voted at female station 05 by 13:06. One voter who had registered to vote in Kabul was rejected and one voter’s name had been deleted from the list. There were three agents (two agents for Ashraf Ghani, one for Hekmatyar). The BVV device had slowed down at around 10:00.
111 out of 400 voters had voted at female station 06 by 12:50. There was one ACSFO observer and one Ghani agent.
Only 66 out of 243 voters in total had voted by 12:53 at female station 07.
59 out of 242 voters had voted by 12:58 at female station 08. The names of two voters had been found to have been deleted from the BVV list.
(2) 200 out of 400 voters had voted by 15:29 at station 01. Four people’s names had not been on the list. 116 out of 239 voters had voted at station 02 by 15:25. 130 out of 238 registered voters had voted at station 03 by 15:16. Almost 15 voters had been unable to vote because their names had been deleted from the list or their stickers and tazkeras did not match. 183 out of 400 voters had voted at female station 04 by 16:00. 160 out of 309 voters had voted at female station 05 by 16:05. 162 out of 309 voted in female station 06.
(3) 174 out of 400 voters had voted in station 01 by 16:57. 161 out of 400 had voted at station 02. 172 out of 400 had voted at station 03 by 17:03. 160 out of 400 had voted at station 04. 166 out of 400 had voted at station 05 by 17:06. The latter figure included 22 station officials and security forces who were not registered at that station, so, in total, only 811 out of 2,000 registered voters had voted in these five male stations. 174 out of 400 registered voters had voted at female station 07. 168 out of 400 voters had voted at female station 08 and 192 out of 400 had voted at female station 09. Two officials were still voting, even though the polling station had formally closed, since the printer of station 09 had run out of ink. Only 534 out of 1,200 female registered voters voted.
(4) According to Mirzazada, Rahimizada had brought an “incomplete resignation letter” that had not been approved. Mirzazada said the ECC gave him a cash fine of 10,000 afghani, but that he had not yet paid it. Rahimizada, however, told AAN the ruling had not yet been communicated to him. He did say the IEC had called him earlier and told him to go to the ECC. He also acknowledged that the ECC had asked him about his resignation and that he told them, “I sent in my resignation, but I have not gone to Ghani’s office to ask for its approval.”
(5) It is worth mentioning that the IEC’s official list for Daikundi shows only 252 polling centres with 558 polling stations and 173,158 voters. The IEC has listed Nawamish district – with 22 polling centres (46 polling stations) and 8,899 voters – under Helmand, but the election in this district is being organised by the IEC office in Nili, the capital of Daikundi.
(6) AAN happened to be present at three stations during the vote count in Sayyedabad Girls High School in Bamyan Centre (1001002) and received one out of the ten copies of the result sheets that, according to the electoral law, has to be given to observers. The result sheets showed that, out of a total of 527 valid votes cast in these three stations, Abdullah got 335 votes (64 per cent), Ghani got 74 (14 per cent), and the rest of the candidates got 118 (22 per cent). AAN also took a photo of the result sheets from Bamyan Markaz Boys High School. As an example, the result sheets from four out of 12 polling stations show a total of 595 valid votes, of which Abdullah got 361 votes (61 per cent), Ghani 86 (14 per cent) and the rest of the candidates 150 (25 per cent).
Detailed votes from Sayyedabad Girls High School in Bamyan Centre (1001002):
- Station 05 with 163 valid votes: Abdullah (100), Ghani (27), Nabil (23), Hafiz (8), Jalili (3), Pedram (1) and Hakimi (1). Three votes were invalid, 284 ballots remained unused. Abdullah got 61 per cent of the valid votes.
- Station 06 with 175 valid votes: Abdullah (118), Ghani (21), Nabil (19), Hafiz (6), Jalili (6), Massud (2), Tamana (1), Hekmatyar (1), Alekozai (1). Six votes were invalid, one ballot was wasted, 238 ballots remained unused. Abdullah got 67 per cent of the valid votes.
- Station 09 with 189 valid votes: Abdullah (117), Ghani (26), Nabil (19), Jalili (11), Hafiz (9), Tamana (4), Hekmatyar (1), Pedram (1) and Atmar (1). Four votes were invalid, one ballot had been wasted, 226 ballots remained unused. Abdullah got 62 per cent of the valid votes.
Detailed votes from Bamyan Markaz Boys High School Polling centre (1001007) taken from a copy of the results sheets posted outside the polling stations:
- Station 05 with 166 valid votes: Abdullah (109), Ghani (21), Nabil (17), Hafiz (13), Jalili (2), Tursan (1), Hekmatyar (1), Olomi (1) and Hakimi (1). Six votes were invalid, 248 remained unused. Abdullah got 66 per cent of the valid votes.
- Station 06 with 178 votes: Abdullah (103), Ghani (30), Nabil (29), Hekmatyar (3), Nejrabi (1), Hafiz (10), Jalili (1), and Tursan (1). 241 ballots remained unused. Abdullah got 58 per cent of the valid votes.
- Station 10 with 148 votes: Abdullah (86), Ghani (18), Nabil (20), Hafiz (13), Jalili (6), Hekmatyar (2), Tamana (1), Olomi (1) and Hakimi (1). 272 ballots remained unused. Abdullah got 58 per cent of the valid votes.
- Station 11 with 103 votes: Abdullah (63), Ghani (17), Nabil (14), Hafiz (6), Pedram (1), Hekmatyar (1), Tamana (1). Three votes were invalid, 214 remained unused. Abdullah got 61 of the valid votes.
(7) The three Daikundi MPs who supported Ghani’s team were Raihana Azad, and Sayyed Muhammad Daud Naseri and Shirin Mohseni who also brought along her husband Aref Dawari whom teacher Halimi described as highly powerful “without whose permission a fly does not sit on a cooking pot”. Daikundi’s fourth MP, Ali Akbar Jamshidi, is affiliated with Khalili and supported Abdullah. For more background, see this AAN’s report here). The provincial council members who supported Ghani were: Shaima Muhammadi, Fatema Naimi, Suhrab Ali Etemadi, Subhan Naebi, Sayyed and Zekria Hashemi.
The provincial council members who supported Abdullah were: Ghair Ali Jawaheri, Rahmani Baloch (both of whom, according Shaima Rustamian, are affiliated with Mohaqeq) and the head of the provincial council Rustamian who left Ghani’s team and joined Abdullah’s team just before the election (she announced it on 20 September through a Facebook post here).
Other supporters of Ghani’s team from Daikundi included three former MPs: Muhammad Ali Setegh (who was also the head of ECC secretariat from 2013 to 2018), Muhammad Nur Akbari (a member of Hezb-e Ensejam who first supported Atmar against the party decision [AAN’s reporting here], but joined Ghani after Atmar’s team fell apart), and Nasrullah Sadiqizada Nili who is affiliated with Muhammad Akbari’s Harasat-e Islami; some influential mullahs, including 2018 Wolesi Jirga candidate and influential mullah from Palich in Shahrestan, Sheikh Muhammad Sarwar Sadeqi, Muhammad Qasem Mowahedi whose son Muhammad Ali Uruzgani was appointed deputy governor of Daikundi earlier this year, and Muhammad Ibrahim Fedayi.
The three Bamyan MPs who supported Ghani were: Beheshti, Zahiruddin Jan Agha and Nekbakht Fahimi (her father, general Muhammad Nader Fahimi, a former deputy governor of Bamyan and an influential figure, also supported Ghani). Bamyan’s fourth MP Muhammad Rahim Aliyar, affiliated with Mohaqeq, supported Abdullah (see Aliyar’s statement here, in which he also somehow criticised Abdullah for not defending the people’s votes in 2014 and not involving Bamyan’s cadres despite the fact that, he claimed, 80 per cent of Bamyan’s votes had gone to Abdullah in 2014).
(8) This was flagged by the faction of the Enlightening Movement led by former Herat MP Ahmad Behzad when it announced its boycott of the election on 23 September. It said in its statement that, despite the fact that 80 per cent of the Hazaras votes had gone to Abdullah in 2014, he had not supported them in certain issues including the issue of the rerouting of the TUTAP line through Salang.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020