Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Elections 2014 (54): Provincial council results creaking under the weight of manipulation

Martine van Bijlert 12 min

The provincial council vote is finally over. It has been fully overshadowed by the drawn-out and contentious presidential election – as could be expected and has been the case in the past as well. Attention dwindled as election fatigue crept in, which meant that its separate audit and complaints processes were almost exclusively followed by those candidates seeking to defend or gain a seat. With the release of the final results on 25 October 2014, almost seven months after the vote, the electoral authorities hope to be able to move on and focus on the preparations for next year’s parliamentary election. But it is worth taking a closer look, says AAN’s Martine van Bijlert. 21 provinces saw changes in their list of winners in a complaints process that was haphazard, hurried and not very transparent, and that may well be repeated in the next election. So although the wish to forget about the past few months is understandable, it is vital to both notice and remember the details, before embarking on what will be the next electoral roller coaster.

Provincial council election audit, Kabul, August 2014. The way the IEC and IECC have sought to clean up the vote has been largely formalistic, writes Martine van Bijlert: more aimed at seeming to act than at seriously trying to investigate and rectify the scope of the fraud. Photo: Martine van Bijlert

“Announcing” the results

The provincial council elections took place on the same day as the first round of presidential elections, 5 April 2014. After that, the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) embarked on a first round of audits and recounts in response to the many election day complaints. The process was largely dealt with at the provincial level, which meant there was a great variation in how complaints were handled and often little transparency on what exactly triggered the decisions (a summary of the decisions can be found here).  The preliminary results were announced six weeks later on 19 May 2014. The IECC then started dealing with the many complaints against the preliminary results. In six open sessions in early June 2014 complaints were referenced but not really discussed. Instead, when it became clear that both fraud and manipulation of the results had been widespread, the IECC decided to do another round of far-reaching audits and recounts (see details here). In many provinces, the complaining candidates demanded a full recount, but due to time constraints the IECC asked the candidates to agree on lists that contained a more limited number of polling stations (which of course meant that the process was likely to favour those represented).

The audit and recount, however, came to a halt when the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced it no longer had time to help out, given that it was also preparing for a second round of the presidential elections. After the presidential second round the IEC was preoccupied with an ever-expanding audit. It was only after the presidential results were announced in late September 2014 that the IEC and IECC could return to the provincial council audit and recount. As a result of these delays, it took the IECC almost five months to finish the audit and decide on the complaints.

The final results of the provincial council election were “announced” by the IEC on Saturday, 25 October 2014. During a televised press conference, chairman Yusuf Nuristani talked about the admirable achievements of the presidential vote, pointed out that the allegations of mass fraud and inflated turnout had not been corroborated by the audit results, but also stressed that it was unrealistic to expect an election without major challenges as long as the country did not have electronic IDs, proper statistics and fixed voter lists. When discussing why the provincial council results had taken so long, he could not help noting that after the IEC released the preliminary provincial results in May; it had taken the IECC four months and 19 days to send their decisions back.

The press conference mainly functioned as a last chance for the IEC to present its own version of the 2014 elections. No details with regard to the actual provincial council results were given – other than a few general figures that were difficult to catch (as there were also no hand-outs) and a promise that the results would be posted on the website within hours.

The next day, lists of the final vote counts – by winning candidates, vote order, ballot order and polling station – had indeed been uploaded. While analysing this data, a picture does emerge of what happened between the preliminary and final results, but it is an incredibly labour-intensive exercise and the details still remain patchy.

Piecing together what happened

The IECC has not (yet?) released aggregated details of the total number of polling stations that were audited, recounted and disqualified, nor of the number of candidates that were affected. But adding up the figures given in each individual provincial decision and comparing the preliminary and final results does give a fair, although possibly incomplete, idea of the scope of the IECC intervention. (1)

The analysis found that between the preliminary and final results:

  • The total number of valid votes decreased by 213, 815 (out of a total of over 7 million). The number of disqualified votes, however, is likely to be much higher, as the outcome is the result of both vote removals and the discovery of new votes that were previously not counted.
  • 47 candidates who were in the list of winners in the preliminary result, lost their position as a result of shifts in the number of votes: 37 men and 9 women. This represents 10 per cent of the total (458 seats, 316 for men and 97 for women). Names listed by pazhwok here.
  • At least 713 polling stations (out of a total of over 22,000) were disqualified in full; in an unknown number of polling stations the votes of specific candidates were disqualified.
  • In at least 2332 polling stations the findings presumably did not match the original count, as recount result sheets were sent to the IEC to be amended into its database.
  • In two provinces – Paktia and Kandahar – all the votes of the number-one winning candidate were disqualified. These candidates can no longer be found on the list.
  • The provinces that were most affected in terms of votes lost were Farah and Logar. Logar lost a third of its votes in the audit (going from 31,921 to 21,298 votes), as did Farah (going from 84,448 to 56,635 votes).
  • Other provinces that lost a large proportion of their votes were Nangrahar (12 per cent), Paktia (12 per cent) and Kandahar (11 per cent), while provinces like Kabul and Herat lost a lot of votes in absolute numbers, if not proportionally – respectively 22630 votes, representing 3 per cent of the vote, and 19582 votes or 4 per cent.
  • Other provinces lost fewer votes and some even gained, as the audit and recounts not only resulted in disqualifications but also unearthed previously uncounted votes. Provinces that gained a few per cent of votes included Helmand, Khost, Kunar and Nuristan.
  • The provinces that were most affected, in terms of changes in the list of winners, were: Logar with three candidates changed (out of 9), Kandahar with four changed (2) and Herat with six (both out of a total of 19) and Kabul with seven candidates changed (out of a total of 33).
  • In 13 provinces, the list of winners remained the same, even though in most cases there were changes in the number of votes and in the relative positions of the candidates. These were Badghis, Bamyan, Ghor, Kapisa, Kunar, Nimruz, Nuristan, Parwan, Samangan, Sarepol, Takhar, Uruzgan and Wardak.
  • In three of these provinces – Nimruz, Sarepol and Wardak – there were no changes in the results at all, not even in the vote counts. In Sarepol and Wardak, according to the IECC decisions (here), this was because none of the complaints had been backed up by evidence. This is however strange, as the IECC website does contain lists of polling stations that are to be recounted for some provinces, including Sarepol. For Nimruz, the new results sheets had apparently been lost, according to the text of an IECC decision that has since then disappeared from the IEC website. (3) A list of 19 Nimruz polling stations that were to be recounted can be found here.

In some provinces, the margins between winners and losers were tiny. In Daikondi, for instance, small changes (fewer than 100 votes per candidate) made winners into losers and vice versa: the two new winners went from 4277 to 4370 votes and from 4259 to 4357 votes (Seyyed Zekria Hashimi and Ibrahim Rahman Baluch), while the two new losers went from 4311 to 4306 votes and even from 4281 to 4282 votes (Mohammad Baqer Mubaleghzadah and Ghulam Hussain Joya). These changes were apparently all made based on a recount in 56 polling stations (according to this IECC decision). The total number of counted votes went up slightly with 314 votes (from 171,528 to 171,842), which is less than 0.2 per cent.

As mentioned earlier, in two provinces the IECC decided to single out candidates for removal by disqualifying all their votes. (4) In Paktia, this affected the current head of the provincial council, Shayesta Jan Ahadi, who had come in first in the preliminary results with 18,220 votes (7 per cent of the provincial total). The rationale for the decision is given in the annex here (in Pashto), alleging that the candidate had been involved in organised fraud across several districts and had tried to bribe IECC staff to keep his votes from being disqualified. According to the document, the decision to disqualify him was made by the provincial department and confirmed by the Kabul commissioners. An IECC staff member told AAN that the disqualification had already been suggested by the provincial department before the preliminary results, but for some reason had not been effected. The fact that it was only agreed on now may have something to do with a shift in power relations as a result of the coming of a new government. It could also simply be that the IECC prefers to keep its intrusive decisions until the last stage when they can no longer be effectively contradicted or overturned.

In Kandahar, the IECC disqualified Mukhtar Rashidi, a relative of governor Weesa, who had come in first in the preliminary results with 12,863 votes (almost 5 per cent of the total vote), surpassing even Hashmat Karzai, the influential cousin of the previous president (who he was subsequently killed in an attack in July 2014). In a letter to the IEC, the IECC says it decided to disqualify Haji Mukhtar after the audit of over 600 polling stations in Kandahar, when they found that “all his votes had problems.” Such problems included ballots not being removed from their stubs, large numbers of ballots with similar tickmarks, tickmarks made with markers and led to the conclusion that there had been systematic fraud.

There are no indications that these full disqualifications per se may have been unjustified, although it is an extreme measure. The districts in Paktia where Shayesta Khan is said to have gathered the bulk of his votes are known places of manipulation (Laja Mangal, Dand-e Patan, Janikhel), and Haji Mukhtar does not appear to have been well-known or influential enough to gain such a sweeping win on actual votes. The question is rather: if the IECC decides to employ these kinds of measures, why was it only done in two cases? It is difficult to imagine that these were the only instances where obvious and widespread fraud was encountered.

Sources of randomness

The structural messiness of the Afghanistan’s elections is caused by the absence of voter lists, the enormous surplus of voter cards not linked to actual voters and the vulnerability of the system to manipulation at literally at levels and all stages of the process (see also this pre-election piece). This is exacerbated by the realisation of all involved that if you want to run for office you also need to compete in the arena of manipulation, as well as by the reluctance of the electoral bodies to act against fraud once it has happened (although even if they were serious about it, it would still be a near impossible task). As a result, audit and complaints processes become haphazard and their outcomes fairly random.

The way the IEC and IECC have sought to clean up the vote has been largely formalistic: more aimed at seeming to act than at seriously trying to investigate and rectify the scope of the fraud. Moreover, the IECC’s decision to let a relatively small group of candidates decide which polling stations were to be audited meant that those present were probably more likely to find the final outcome in their favour. The complaints process to some extent has become a forum for petitions and negotiations.

The haphazard nature of the process also means that the number of polling stations or votes disqualified, or the number of candidates losing their position per province does not necessarily tell us how extensive the fraud has been. A province may, for instance, see a higher level of disqualifications simply because candidates managed to lodge their complaints more effectively or a lower level of disqualifications simply because the audit was less extensive or not done seriously. Feedback from the provinces suggests that the provincial council audits and recounts were done without the presence of independent observers and in many cases with only very limited candidate representation.

An example of the kind of back and forth surrounding the complaints process can be found in the case of Kabul. The IECC’s initial recount of a handful of polling stations uncovered serious irregularities: large numbers of ballots cast for a candidate being counted for someone else, small numbers of ballots being grossly inflated in the results, etc. When a slightly larger sample showed the same serious problems, the IECC agreed to a full recount of all Kabul’s polling stations, but it later called a meeting to inform the candidates they actually did not have the financial means or the capacity to do so. Candidates then agreed to a more limited recount and drew up a list of 992 polling stations (out of a total of around 2300). There was an attempt to expand the list later, when a group of leading candidates realised the recount would probably mainly target their votes. The IECC agreed to a limited top-up but it appears that in the end the idea was dropped, possibly because those lobbying believed they no longer needed it.

As is usual, there are scattered protests against the outcome of the election by losing candidates. A candidate from Parwan is reported to have blocked the Ghorband-Bamyan road. Demonstrations in Kabul and Herat have called for the prosecution of the election officials. This has partly been fed by allegations of “questionable expenses” of IEC commissioners, that were aired in the media immediately after the announcement results. Members of the Meshrano Jirga called for an investigation into the election results on Sunday. Rafiullah Gul Afghan and Daud Assas, two current senators and candidates in the last provincial councils’ election, claimed the IECC had removed their names from the winners’ list the night before the result was announced. They accused the chairperson of IECC of manipulation and called him a “shopkeeper who is buying and selling votes.” MPs from both houses are said to have demanded that election officials be barred from leaving the country until the matter has been investigated. Other candidates have sought to make their case on Facebook (see for instance here), which has become an important platform for political communication.

If the pattern of previous elections is followed, the protests are likely to die down.

Looking ahead

Whoever has watched the last decade of Afghan elections from up close is well aware of how the whole process – from candidate registration to polling station distribution and from voting and counting to data entry – is creaking under the weight of the attempts to manipulate the outcome. The complaints, audit and recount processes are supposed to function as an antidote, but they have been hurried and formulistic – both in this year’s presidential and provincial council election. As in previous elections, the outcome as a result has become at best random, at worst heavily manipulated and unreliable – and in reality probably somewhere in between. Electoral reform, in terms of a new electoral law or an overhaul of the electoral bodies, is unlikely to address the structural issue that these are elections that under the current circumstances – insecurity, the total absence of baseline figures, and collusion between electoral and security staff and candidates, at all levels – are very difficult to control.

There is little reason for optimism for the 2015 parliamentary election. It may not push the country to the edge of crisis in the way this year’s presidential election did, but it will be contested and could easily dominate the political process for a long time, as happened after the 2010 parliamentary election and in this year’s presidential vote. The stakes are likely to be even higher than in the past, as both of the government’s factions will probably seek to outnumber each other in the Lower House – just in case they may want to outvote each other in the future. Moreover, if a loya jirga is indeed called to discuss the shape of government, the elected MPs will make up a large part of the participants.

As IEC chairman Nuristani – and before him countless Afghan and international election observer organisations – has repeatedly alluded to, as long as Afghanistan does not know how many voters it has and where they are supposed to turn up to vote, it will be worth engaging in massive fraud. Even if the new government decides to try to tackle this through the issuing of electronic IDs and possibly even a census, the question remains what to do with the 2015 election.

This report greatly benefited from input by Eshan Qaane and Qayum Suroush and from help by the whole AAN team in going through the provincial council complaints, decisions and results.


(1) Copies of the IECC decisions per province, in Dari and Pashto, can be found on the IEC website, here, although they are not always complete. Final and preliminary results can be found here.

Although there is a heading on the IECC website for “recounted polling stations and centres,” at the time of posting it only provided details for Kabul (listing 992 polling stations in 345 polling centres). Another page lists polling stations that were to be recounted for some of the provinces.

(2) In Kandahar, however, Hashmat Karzai who was killed in July 2014, is still included in the list. If he is taken off, the next runner-up – Attaullah Atta, who had originally gathered enough votes to make it into the council – will be re-included in the list of winners. Which brings the number of changes for Kandahar down to three.

(3) The IEC could not be reached for clarification. The IECC, when reached, said there must be some technical problem and that it will probably be solved in the coming days. When asked if they could send a copy of the decision they declined. The IECC decisions (except Nimroz) have been posted to the IEC website, possibly in an attempt by the IEC to deflect responsibility for the final results. The latest IECC decisions do not appear to be available on the IECC website.

(4) Provinces where one candidate on the list was changed were Balkh, Faryab, Ghazni, Khost, Kunduz, Nangrahar, Paktika and Zabul. Provinces where two candidates changed were Badakhshan, Baghlan, Daikondi, Farah, Helmand, Jowzjan, Laghman, Paktia and Panjshir.

(5) The singling out of certain candidates by the IECC for the disqualification of all their votes was first done during the 2010 parliamentary elections. At that time, the complaints commission removed 27 candidates after the preliminary parliamentary results were announced. 23 of them had been leading candidates and three had been very close (for more details see p 14-5 of this report). At that time, no reasons were given.

(6) A local elder in Kandahar, when asked about the disqualification of Haji Mukhtar, said this: “The decision of the commission seems alright. Haji Mukhtar did fraud. Of course all of them did, but his fraud was uncovered. And of course there was deal making within in the commission, I’m not saying there was none. But the people are relatively content, because the commission at least brought a few good people.”



audit count fraud Provincial council elections


Martine van Bijlert

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