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65: Victory or defeat for Afghan electorate?

Zafar Shah Rouyee
Nearly seven million people cast their ballots Saturday, according to the Independent Election Commission (IEC). But several high profile figures criticised the handling of the election. At least one high-ranking…
17.06.2014  |  Kabul

After nearly seven million Afghans returned to the polls on Saturday June 14 to elect the successor to President Karzai, local media led the tributes for another largely successful practice in Afghan democracy.

“Violence and trying to get to power by force has already lost its historic ground," Hasht-e-subh, Afghanistan's largest daily, said in its leading editorial. "The participation of the people of Afghanistan in the presidential elections clearly proved this. From the beginning, it was predicted that the turnout rate would not be as high this time around, but the Afghans bravely went to polling station and cast their votes,” wrote the Kabul-based daily in its Sunday editorial. “Now it is up to officials of the Afghan Independent Election Commission the Elections Complaint Commission to protect the integrity of the votes of the people of Afghanistan. They have to count every vote as accurately as possible.”

Mandogar Daily criticised the IEC and demanded an investigation into claims of fraud. “Emphasis on a number exceeding seven million votes means that the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) wanted to legitimize hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes from insecure areas of Afghanistan cast for a certain presidential candidate,” read an editorial in the Urdu-language daily. “All of this shows that the IEC works for a certain presidential candidate and has also had some shortcomings operationally."

The incumbent praised the security forces for thwarting many Taliban attacks. “We took this big step while our police, army and intelligence forces sacrificed their lives to protect their people and land," said President Karzai. 

Old habits die hard

The editor of Jamaya-e-Baz, in the paper’s Sunday editorial, said democracy was beginning to mirror traditional Afghan power structures: “Power relations in the Afghan society have so far been held by intermediaries. Political rule has so far not been very direct with the people and citizens of this country. The people of Afghanistan have been absent in the political arena, and political elites and tribal leaders have made decisions on their behalf and for them. This pattern of political behavior once again emerged at a time when power transition is supposed to happen democratically. This issue is undoubtedly a serious threat for Afghan democracy,” read the editorial.

Arman-e-Milli Daily said the Independent Election Commission (IEC) is key now. “If the election commissions do not do their jobs well, Afghanistan will descend into a crisis,” forewarns the newspaper. Anees, which is a governmental daily, praised the high turnout, despite the scores of threats from insurgent groups. Etla’at-e-Roz praised the security forces.

Azizullah Lodin, the former chairman of the IEC, participated in a roundtable on Ariana TV and questioned the IEC’s declaration that turnout exceeded seven million. “Shorter lines of voters in polling stations are a clear indication of lower turnout rate,” said Lodin.

Daud Ali Najafi, minister of transportation and former chairman of the Secretariat of the Afghan Independent Elections Commission, also talking on Ariana News, said that technically speaking, the IEC could not have determined the turnout rate immediately after the voting process concluded. “If the real numbers are less than the numbers given by Afghanistan Independent Elections Commission, it will cause serious problems,” said Najafi.

Bad omens at poll stations

Nader Naderi, chairman of the Afghan Free and Fair Elections Foundation (FEFA), also aired his suspicions that turnout was lower this round. Beside the shortage of ballot papers, Naderi also lamented that certain IEC staff and other election monitors were not granted full access to poll stations while “the presence of powerful individuals in polling stations” was an issue.

People's voice grows louder

But Kazemia Mohaqeq, who ran with presidential candidate Daud Sultanzoi in the first round of elections, participated in a roundtable on TOLONews and described the second round run-off as better when compared with the first round of elections. Mohaqeq said that despite the heightened security threats, the electorate braved the potential dangers. Mohaqeq said the electorate’s comprehension of the process was superior this time round with only two candidates. “Democracy will soon become institutionalized very well in Afghanistan,” said Mohaqeq.

The people of Afghanistan once again proved that they can determine their future by themselves,” said Safai Sediqi, a member of the campaign team of Amin Arsala – a candidate eliminated in the first round of presidential voting

IEC shortcomings

The campaign teams of both candidates reacted differently to proceedings. Shekiba Hashimi, a member of Abdullah’s campaign team, participated in a roundtable on TV1 and accused the IEC of supporting Ghani. “The commission sent fewer ballots where Doctor Abdullah Abdullah was expected to get more votes,” said Hashimi, accusing certain IEC staff of working for Ghani.

But Ghani’s team praised the IEC. “Using the experiences of the first round of elections, the IEC identified problems and shortcomings and managed to regain the trust of the people of Afghanistan,” said Shah Gul Rezai, a spokeswoman for Ghani’s team.

Vote against terrorism

The people of Afghanistan showed that they are against terrorism by participating in the elections. In fact, “The majority of the people of Afghanistan went to polling stations to cast their votes to defy terrorism,”said Mohammad Ali Akhlaqi, a parliamentarian talking on Negah TV.

But Sardar Wali, an expert on political affairs, also participated in the roundtable on Negah TV and said that the turnout rate was lower this time around when compared with the first round of elections. He added that last time, both presidential and provincial council elections happened at the same time. That caused more people to come out and vote.

IEC member accused of fraud

Meanwhile, Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, chairman of the Secretariat of the IEC, was accused of illegal transfer of ballots and ballot boxes by Kabul police.

On Saturday, June 14, 2014, Kabul Police stopped two vehicles carrying elections materials to an undisclosed location at the order of Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail. After stopping these vehicles, General Muhammad Zaher Zaher, the Chief of Kabul Police, told reporters that Mr. Amarkhail wanted to commit fraud for the benefit of a specific candidate. But Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail rejected this accusation and said that he was going to send those elections materials to a polling stations running out of ballots in Soroby.

Abdullah demanded Amarkhail be suspended and that his past work at the commission “was questionable”. Abdullah threatened to not accept the result if it emerges that the number of votes cast was greater than the number of ballot papers printed.

What next?

Abdullah’s remarks sent shockwaves through social media, with some users predicting a bleak future for Afghans. “What destiny will hunt us?” posted Jawed Naji on his Facebook profile. “Migration? Again Iran and working on stones? Peshawar’s migrant camps? Lining up behind the gates of the United Nations? Will it be rockets and RPGs again?”