Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
Workers shift ballot boxes at the Independent Election Commission warehouses on Sept. 23 in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Electoral Complaints Commission has received vast amounts of complaints alleging fraud.
Workers shift ballot boxes at the Independent Election Commission warehouses on Sept. 23 in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Electoral Complaints Commission has received vast amounts of complaints alleging fraud. Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
Election results are still trickling in after Afghanistan's parliamentary vote two weeks ago, but the jury is still out on how clean the election was.
In Kabul, authorities are examining hundreds of complaints of fraud and irregularities. Whether Afghans will accept this election as better than last year's troubled presidential poll may boil down to how the complaints are settled, and whether everyone's complaints are considered equally before the law. Some Afghans have their doubts.
In a public park near the presidential palace in Kabul, two dozen men and women gathered this week to make their case. They all came from sparsely populated Farah province, hundreds of miles west of Kabul, more specifically a remote mountain district called Purchaman.
Purchaman district had about 20,000 registered voters, and in an election with mediocre attendance nationwide, preliminary reports say that 100 percent, or maybe closer to 150 percent, voted in the elections.
The people in the park were all candidates who ran for election in Purchaman and lost.
Muhammad Hashem Majboor said he campaigned for a month there, but when election day came, he and his supporters were chased away from the polls by men loyal to the local warlord who took over the polling stations. Other candidates have similar stories: Their official observers were arrested and their telephones confiscated.
When the preliminary results came out, the people of Purchaman had apparently voted for two men who are virtual unknowns there, as well as the son of the same local warlord. One electoral official from the province said the ballots were collected and simply doled out for cash payments by the warlord.
Majboor said the election was stolen.
"The people of Purchaman have two options -– either to surrender to Taliban, or move out of Purchaman," he said through a translator.
Sentiments like that fit a pattern, which analysts say is driving many Afghans into the arms of the Taliban when they lose faith in the institutions of the Kabul government. Majboor said people here want democracy but are getting none from Kabul.
He and the other candidates have presented their testimony to Afghanistan's electoral bodies, but they don't have much faith they will get a fair shake.
One of the candidates who won in Purchaman though he has never set foot there is the brother of President Hamid Karzai's deputy national security adviser. That candidate, Haji Shah Mahmoud Spinzada, told NPR by phone that there was no fraud in his province. He acknowledged that he has never been to Purchaman but said the 5,000 or so votes he got there are legitimate.
Another apparent winner in Purchaman, Massoud Bakhtawar, allowed that there could have been a few irregularities but said the complaints are coming mostly from sore losers.
Bakhtawar, the son of a powerful former mujahedeen commander in the province, said it's human nature to complain against the winner when you lose.
The winner of the most votes in Purchaman, the son of the local warlord, also told NPR that there had been no fraud.
All three of the main vote-getters asked to see the evidence, which is presumably now in the hands of the Electoral Complaints Commission.
Ahmad Zia Rafat, a spokesman for the commission, said all complaints will be considered equally.
"What will we do with powerful people? Our judgment will be equal to all, and we won't look at who is strong and who is weak," Rafat said.
The complaints against the warlords from Purchaman as well as the brother of Karzai's Cabinet member have been before the commission for a week already, but no ruling has been issued so far.