While people across the world are wrapping their last gifts and doing their last Christmas shopping, Afghanistan still has unfinished election business. And it is clear that we haven’t seen the last of all the bizarre twists and turns.
(1) The latest twist is a mysterious fire in the IT department of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) which took place on Monday evening. The incident was reported in Mandegar daily this morning and has since then been confirmed by IEC officials (speaking unofficially) as well as FEFA, the national electoral observation organisation. Details are murky but initial reports suggest that a large part of the organisation’s electoral files may have been destroyed – computers with sensitive data are reported to have either disappeared or been burnt. FEFA has requested access to the site to assess the damage, but this has so far not been granted. Those who are aware of the incident are convinced that this foul play and regard it as a clumsy but possibly effective attempt to destroy the growing evidence of electoral manipulation.
The IEC website has additionally been inaccessible for over two days now. The IEC claims that the host server has passworded the site – possibly because bills have not been paid – and that even IEC staff cannot access it now. Others shrug and suspect that the IEC is fed up of people poring over the results or is trying to make further changes. Whatever the case, it’s a rather messy end – which has still not ended – to what was already a highly frayed process.
(2) In the meantime I have just spent what is probably a week of my life trying to find out what happened in the Ghazni provincial council elections. My interest was raised after several people recounted how in the original – extremely fraudulent – count nineteen Pashtuns had come out on top in a council of nineteen. This did not come as a total surprise, as most “voting” had taken place in unmonitored ballot boxes that were designated for inaccessible Pashtun districts. But the outcome was so extreme that it was recognised as unacceptable by all parties. There are detailed reports of how Karzai, being petitioned by indignant Hazaras, gives instructions to “fix this” and there are less detailed but nevertheless largely consistent reports of how a committee was established and how a jirga was called to decide on a fairer composition – roughly based on the composition of the outgoing council.
The preliminary results subsequently featured nine Hazaras, nine Pashtuns and one Tajik. And although I have not been able to convincingly confirm that these people were selected rather than elected (or reconstruct how the selection was then translated into verifiable election results) the perception is clearly that the preliminary results reflect a consensus decision rather than a vote count.
However the final Ghazni results, once they were posted, showed major shifts both in terms of voting patterns – with thousands of votes being disqualified or suddenly discovered without any obvious legal basis – and in outcome, with the council now featuring eleven Hazaras, seven Pashtuns and one Seyyed (and the Pashtun who would have replaced the council member elected into the Senate has also been replaced by a Hazara).
FEFA reported that there had been in-house tally correction based on tally sheet copies provided by unsuccessful provincial council members, which FEFA described as a “positive development”. However, the absence of guidelines or any documentation of these decisions once they have been made – at least as far as I am aware of – means that the basis for adding large numbers of votes becomes arbitrary and largely unverifiable. The disappointed Pashtun and Tajik candidates have all pointed the finger at the head of the IEC Secretariat, who is a Hazara from Ghazni, blaming him for unfairly adding Hazaras to the provincial council.
The real issue is of course that there has been no real election in large parts of Ghazni and that the cut-off point in deciding who will sit in the provincial council becomes arbitrary: should it be after the counting of fraudulent votes? After the negotiated selection? Is it alright to accept the manipulated (or revised) negotiated selection? Or should the revised negotiated selection be revised again? Who gets to decide?
The importance of the ethnic composition of the council is illustrated by the tussles that surrounded the internal elections within the 2005 Ghazni provincial council. The Hazaras, who at the time held eleven seats out of nineteen, had decided to use their majority to take both slots in the Senate and the council chairmanship. The Pashtuns then refused to enter the building so that there would be no quorum and no vote. UN and JEMB staff, who had been present to witness the internal election, spent most of the day in (unsuccessful) shuttle diplomacy between the meeting room and the car park. In the end the case was solved by several locally prominent figures who mediated a compromise: a Hazara chair, a Pashtun deputy and one Hazara and one Pashtuns elected into the Senate. Those mediating were largely the same as those who are said to have negotiated the current preliminary outcome.
(3) There is good chance that everything is even more surreal than what we have so far uncovered. And then again, maybe not. Maybe there are no hidden hands or conspiracies. But the main problem is that nobody is asking. The provincial council results of eleven provinces – which include a few highly controversial ones – still need to be posted. There are potentially considerable problems with the results that have been announced, as illustrated in the case of Ghazni. And there may be far-reaching tampering and drastic attempts to cover-up still going on at the IEC IT department. But there is nobody left to raise these issues with. The ECC has been dismantled. UNAMA no longer has political staff following the elections. UNDP ELECT has largely moved to Dubai. The rest of the world is on holiday.
So Merry Christmas. Let’s talk again, when you are all back. But can we please have a few people paying attention to the elections. Even though it may take until 2011 for the next one to take place, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. And there are a lot of things that still need to be uncovered, if we ever want to have a chance of something that is slightly less blatantly and surreally manipulated.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020