Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Afghan election: Industrial-scale corruption, or real hope?

August 29, 2010

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What is a worse prospect for an Afghanistan election – election fraud on an industrial scale or a quiet campaign of intimidation that keeps voters away from the polls, or forces them to vote for the most powerful candidate?
That seems to be the choice facing many Afghan voters ahead of the Sept. 18 parliamentary election, particularly those in the Pashtun tribal belt in the south and east where so much of the fraud that marred last year’s presidential ballot was committed.

Afghan voters can be excused for feeling ballot fatigue. The September vote will be their fourth in six years.
There have been some improvements but the key questions of poor governance, corruption and security remain unanswered despite the number of ballots they have cast. To turn out again will be a real test of their commitment to democracy, a right taken for granted by many in the West and grumbled about when they are asked to exercise it. It would hardly be surprising, given the risks, if many decided not to vote.

But the Sept. 18 poll is important nonetheless. It will be a real test of Afghanistan’s stability, of the progress being made in governance and in the fight against rampant corruption of which so many in government at all levels have been accused.

These are the things that will also be factored into U.S. President Barack Obama’s promised Afghan strategy review in December.

Ultimately it is a question of whether it is all worth the effort. Most Americans seem to say no – a poll released by NBC and The Wall Street Journal this month found seven out of 10 Americans don’t believe the war will end successfully.  The November mid-term congressional elections will be a stern test of Obama’s resolve, with even his own Democrats divided.

Afghans don’t have much choice. Record levels of insecurity, civilian casualties, food insecurity, poverty, unemployment, rising drug addiction rates all point to the need for change. Afghans and Western officials acknowledge the vote faces serious challenges. Three candidates have already been killed, campaigning is impossible in some areas and more than 900 of 6,835 planed polling centre will not open because of poor security. Four candidates have also been killed already.

On Thursday, there were reports 10 members of a female candidate’s staff had been kidnapped in Western Herat.
Thousands of polling officials from last year’s presidential election have been told not to bother to come back this time around.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC), the weak link in last year’s poll, has been strengthened but the fraud watchdog, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has in turn been weakened significantly.
It was the U.N.-backed ECC which detailed much of the fraud in the 2009 presidential vote, leading to about a third of votes for Karzai being thrown out as fake.
The perceived strength of the ECC last year was its independence, with three of its  five commissioners foreigners.
After last year’s widely criticised voted, Karzai decided that he would change the system of appointments to the ECC and ruled that only two foreigners – an Iraqi and a South African – would sit as commissioners with three Afghans this year.

The type of fraud last year was mainly wholesale – ballot-box stuffing and multiple voting on what has been described as an industrial scale. It will be different this time, observers like Democracy International say, because these are parliamentary elections in which local issues, varying from province to province, will hold sway.
Consequently, the approach to fraud will be more individual, or retail in approach.

Observers this time expect an old-style Tammany Hall approach, quiet intimdation at the local level and money flowing into certain campaigns.

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