Names of the 249 winners of last month's parliamentary elections in Afghanistan have now been declared. But final results may be weeks away, since fraud accusations are still being investigated.
Press conference of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC). Nearly a fourth of the casted ballots have been delcared invalid
All of this puts the official election commission in a difficult position. More than a month after the vote the commission is coming under increasing pressure because the number of complaints about alleged irregularities has soared to more than 4600, far higher than projected. This in turn has fuelled suspicions that the vote was rigged: "We do not contest that important people have tried to manipulate these elections," says Fasel Ahmad Mahnawi, head of the Independent Election Commission. "More than one million votes stand as a proof for this and have been declared invalid."
All in all Afghanistan's election authorities have cancelled a total of 1.3 million votes, nearly 25 percent of the total. The scale of the fraud is at a level similar to that of last year's presidential election, in which president Karzai was finally reelected but lost much of his political legitimacy after his government was found to have been involved in efforts to rig the result.
'Free and fair' elections?
Afghans read a letter posted at a mosque by the Taliban warning people against voting in the parliamentary elections
Some of winners on the list now published have sat in parliament before. That will favor President Karzai, says Asif Baktasch, an expert on domestic affairs: "The outcome is a success for the government", says Baktasch. "A lot of those closely cooperating with the Karzai administration will be represented in the coming parliament. But I don't think that what we see has much to do with free and fair elections."
It remains unclear at this point to what extent Karzai's followers will be able to control the newly elected parliament. In contrast to most other countries in the democratic world, political parties are not part of Afghanistan's election law and political system. Neither is there a tradition for forging political alliances to facilitate stable majorities in parliament.
Over the past few years, President Karzai has managed to buy the loyalty of a substantial number of parliamentarians through political promises and other favors and in doing so to affect the way MPs vote. Neverthless MPs did not always shy away from confrontation with Karzai, as was the case when it rejected his list of new ministers in his cabinet after the presidential elections.
Powerbrokers and warlords
"I'm not surprised at all to see this happening," says Sanjar Sohail, editor of Hasht Soubh newspaper. "We have constantly seen that different powerbrokers, among them a number of influential warlords, have illegally interfered in the voting process. What we see now is that they get rewarded for it with a seat in the new parliament."
For instance, three out of four names on the preliminary list of winners in the Kabul province are well known warlords. Their names are treated with contempt by most ordinary Afghans. Mohaqeq, Qanuni or Sayaaf, who are in leading positions today as they were in the past, are said to be responsible for major war crimes, according to international human rights bodies. But they and former commanders have been given a de facto amnesty by law.
A more conservative parliament?
Election posters in Kabul, Afghanistan
"The next parliament will be more conservative and more backward orientated," says Sayfuddin Sayhun, who teaches political science and economics at Kabul university. "Many of those who will now take their seats in parliament do not care much for democracy and democratic values. The gap between the people and the parliament will widen, and the credibility of democracy as a political concept will suffer further."
Due to the large number of complaints, the announcement of the final results has been repeatedly pushed back. Now it is expected for mid-November at the earliest.
All things considered, the situation one month after the election is ambiguous: On the one hand more and more cases of fraud are surfacing every day; on the other, the Independent Election Commission has promised a more transparent approach than after the last fraudulent elections. It could just be that there is not more fraud this time around, but the fraud in the current elections is being more widely reported than in the past. That would be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Author: Martin Gerner
Editor: Grahame Lucas