Doubts Linger Over Afghan Election
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Since Afghanistan held a parliamentary election a month ago, there have been thousands of allegations of fraud, from voters, candidates and election monitors. Election officials say the fraud wasn't bad enough to undermine the legitimacy of the vote, but the ballot count is taking longer than expected. And NPR's Rachel Martin reports the delays are undermining Afghans' trust in their fragile democracy.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
The garden in front of the Electoral Complaints Commission in Kabul is a busy place these days. Disgruntled candidates drive from nearby provinces to the capital to register allegations of fraud or irregularities in the parliamentary election process. Thirty-seven-year-old Zakira Zaki(ph) is a parliamentary candidate from Parwan province northwest of Kabul. Waving folded documents in one hand, she tries to make her case to an elections official.
Ms. ZAKIRA ZAKI (Afghan Political Candidate): (Foreign language spoken)
MARTIN: Zaki insists she has 50 more votes than her nearest competitor, which should make her a winner in her province.
Ms. ZAKI: (Through Translator) It's been two days since the counting was finished, but today when I checked the Internet, I was the third person. I don't know why because counting is already finished, and I don't know why it changes.
MARTIN: Election officials tell Zaki to fill out a complaint form and they'll review her case. If there was a mistake in the counting, they'll reinstate her as the winner, but Zaki says she no longer trusts the system.
Ms. ZAKI: (Through Translator) I'm very sorry to see fraud as clear as this, and it makes me upset and disappointed for the future of the country and the future of the government.
MARTIN: The voting last month was the first democratic parliamentary election in Afghanistan in 30 years. Thousands of candidates campaigned for 249 parliamentary seats, 35 percent of which are reserved for women. Now as preliminary results are coming in, many of those candidates are claiming foul play. The Joint Electoral Management Board, or JEMB, the international organization handling the election, says they've identified an alarmingly high number of fraud cases like ballot box stuffing or proxy voting. But Staffan Darnolf, an election commissioner with the JEMB, says most of the accusations are baseless.
Mr. STAFFAN DARNOLF (JEMB): We also have to realize we had almost 6,000 candidates. Less than a thousand will be elected, and we will have 5,000 people that will be complaining. Some people will take it and say, `Fine, I lost'; some people say, `I need to find a scapegoat.'
MARTIN: Darnolf says returns from about 550 polling stations will be excluded from the final count because of fraud; that's about 2 percent of the vote. According to JEMB officials, most of the fraud is concentrated in the unstable southern and eastern parts of the country where local militias intimidate voters and security is virtually non-existent. Staffan Darnolf says that's to be expected.
Mr. DARNOLF: In some parts of the country, it's still a conflict environment. And then it's only natural that there will be coercion, there will be a lot of influence from the local strongmen that are either on the ticket or they're supporting a semilegitimate candidate running for office. So it's part of it, and it's extremely difficult for us, or I will say, possible for us as an election authority to do anything about it.
MARTIN: No matter how localized or insignificant the fraud in these elections proves to be, election officials say they are now racing against the clock to release the final results. As the count drags on, tensions are rising and demonstrators around the country are demanding answers. Paul Fishstein is the director of the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, an international organization that monitored the election. Fishstein says the biggest concern now is public perception.
Mr. PAUL FISHSTEIN (Director, Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit): And I think the longer the count is drawn out and the more allegations there are of fraud, the more delays there are in releasing the results, I think the more questions are raised in terms of public opinion about the legitimacy of the election.
MARTIN: Election officials are auditing paperwork from all the counting centers to make sure there are no discrepancies, and investigations into quarantined ballot boxes are ongoing. Final results in the parliamentary election are expected to be released October 22nd. Rachel Martin, NPR News, Kabul.
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