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Electoral fraud

Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / reApril 7, 2014

Just after the historic presidential elections in Afghanistan, initial complaints about vote rigging have been issued. The extent to which electoral fraud may have taken place cannot yet be determined in a precise way.

A man empties a ballot box (Foto: Omar Sobhani/REUTERS)
Image: Reuters

The day after landmark polls on Saturday (05.04.201) in Afghanistan, the Election Complaints Commission (ECC) had already registered 162 complaints about irregularities on election day. Among their issuers were two of the favorite candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Both men threatened that they wouldn't accept the election results if the allegations are confirmed.

ECC spokesman Nader Mohseni said that the commission would investigate the accusations. When proof of fraud can be found in specific cases, he said, those ballots won't be counted. Mohseni's organization is convinced that electoral fraud did take place in certain polling stations, but what remains unclear is exactly where and which candidate benefitted from it.

The complaints recall the country's 2009 elections, which were marred by massive fraud. Around 1.2 million ballots were ultimately rejected as invalid - corresponding to about 20 percent of the votes cast.

A blight on a historic day

Nils Wörmer, director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kabul, warns that the accusations of electoral manipulation could eclipse the successes of election day. "These complaints that were issued so early refer to irregularities during the voting process," said the Afghanistan expert. "It is possible that there will be more complaints in the next weeks, which will relate to the vote counting."

Wörmer adds that these represent two very different stages at which it is possible to intervene in the outcome of elections.

A policeman guerds ballot boxes (Foto. Mohammad Ismail/REUTERS)
Security measures were extended on election dayImage: Reuters

In any case, the accusations have to be taken seriously and need to be investigated, says Kate Clark from the Afghan Analysts Network. "If electoral fraud really took place, it would be of immense importance to make this known before a possible second round," she said.

The two candidates who received the most votes in the first round will compete in a runoff, provided no one received more than 50 percent of the initial votes.

"Then the Afghan people have the chance to vote for the candidate that reached the runoff without vote rigging," she said. The Afghanistan expert fears that if the allegations are proven true, the future of the country could be at stake.

On election day, the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA) also collected complaints, which have yet to arrive in Kabul, says FEFA spokesman Naeem Asghary. "It is obvious that there was vote rigging," he said, "As soon as we have the evidence, we will publish a written report." That document will also be sent on to the Electoral Complaints Commission.

Counting underway

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) estimates that around seven million of the more than 12 million people entitled to vote took part in the election - despite threats from the Taliban. The Islamist extremists appear not to have been able to disrupt the process significantly. The IEC extended the opening of the polling stations for an hour due to high voter turnout. Some polling stations had run out of ballot forms.

Just a few hours after the polling stations closed, rumors about the election result emerged. Some Afghan media and social networks published the preliminary results. But the election commission made clear that it is unrealistic to issue extrapolations, claiming published results are just based on speculation. The IEC wants to present its initial projections within the coming days.

Men queue along side a red and green fence (Foto: N.Asir-DW)
Many people were eager to vote despite the Taliban's threats to attack voters and polling stationsImage: DW/N.Asir

Less violence than expected

The Afghan defense ministry said that some 690 attacks took place on election day. Around 165 rebels have been killed, and more than 80 have been injured, according to ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi.

"That sounds like a high number," said Wörmer from the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation. "But when you count each single gunfight, it puts the number into perspective." Major attacks did not happen - as feared. Many strikes were prevented by the Afghan security forces, says Wörmer.

But the violence has not stopped. On Sunday (06.06.2014), two staff members from the election commission and one member of the police were killed in an attack in the northern province of Kunduz. They were transporting ballot boxes when their vehicle hit a booby trap. The ballot boxes were destroyed, according to the province's governor.

The security situation remains tight until the announcement of the first results, which are expected for April 24. It is unlikely that one of the candidates will win an absolute majority in the first round, and a runoff may be scheduled for May 28.