Notes from an Afghan Analyst: Fraud and Turnout

In this guest blog, Afghan analyst Mohammed Hassan Wafaey writes on changing voter perceptions on the run-off.

 

On Saturday June 14, 2014 Afghans voted in a runoff presidential election: a first in the country’s history.  The runoff opened new questions on voter turnout, fraud on Election Day and the neutrality of the IEC and ECC, and raised concerns about potential violence in response to the outcome.  This blog provides a brief snapshot of some of these questions and concerns.

Voter turnout:

In the first round, the IEC announced voter turnout as close to 7 million. One day after the runoff, the IEC announced voter turnout to have been even higher – over 7 million – which for many raised questions.  It raised the concern of a planned conspiracy in the runoff, further heightened by the recent release of informal numbers showing votes cast in some provinces to be three times higher than the number of eligible voters in these provinces.

People expected turnout to be lower in the second round, because:

  • As experienced in previous rounds of elections, provincial council candidates had a key role in motivating voters to participate in the first round in April 5, 2014. Due to the localized nature of provincial council elections, competition between PC candidates was very high. In two rounds of PC elections, most of voters voted based on clan and local incentives.  These motivations for voting were missing in the runoff, which led some people to believe that turnout would be lower.
  • Ambiguity in the election result and the prolonged counting process frustrated many voters and put a lot of people off participating in the second round.
  • As the runoff drew nearer, it disrupted daily life significantly – development projects stopped, business and employment reduced.  This gave people a negative impression of the runoff and discouraged participation.

Unexpectedly, the IEC reported an increased turnout in provinces in the south and south east, such as Nangarhar, Khost, Paktya and Kandahar.  In general, however, security threats have increased in these areas since the first round,  possibly because of the failure of Taliban to disrupt the April election. These questions are all contributing to an increased public suspicion of the IEC, with concerns about its neutrality increasing.

Fraud:

After the first round results were released, people expected that supporters of both leading teams would try to use fraud to ensure their success in the runoff.  Though both candidates emphasized the importance of transparency in the runoff, the issue of fraud was raised by social media the day before the second round which attracted the attention of several relevant officials. On election day itself, fraud was again hitting the headlines due to a dispute between Amarkhail, the head of the IEC secretariat and General Azimi, the head of police, about the transfer of ballot boxes to Surubi district. This dispute even made one of candidates, Abdullah, request the IEC to suspend Amarkhail’s job at the IEC. This has seriously affected people’s perception of the IEC, which is now largely negative, with people blaming it for anything they consider to be wrong with the  election process.  Other main reasons for people distrusting the IEC include:

  • The increasing number of complaints about the IEC field staff. According to ECC officials, the number of complaints about the IEC field staff is higher than the rest of the complaints combined.
  • The level of fraud reported by FEFA, TEFA and other electoral monitoring institutions and CSOs appears to be higher in the second round.

To many, the runoff meant a step forward for democracy in Afghanistan, because it showed that people’s votes were effective and that the IEC and ECC are taking people’s votes into consideration even in the most sensitive of political situations, in which power is going to be transferred to a new president for the first time in the country. But the issue of huge fraud and the increasing suspicion towards the electoral institutions shows that the runoff could also be a step back if the election is not managed well.  If the runoff is not managed well and transparently by the relevant electoral institutions,  people will lose their trust in the election process and this will affect the legitimacy of the next government. The IEC and ECC need to be vigilant in dealing with fraud and be transparent in all their activities.

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