The recurring theme in last year’s presidential Afghanistan elections was fraud, and this weekend’s lower parliamentary elections in Afghanistan appeared to be no different.
Ballot stuffing, extreme violence –11 people killed, including three police offers, polling boxes shutting down early or running out of ballot papers and underage voting were just some of the issues plaguing these elections, according to the Free and Free Election Foundation of Afghanistan group.
Pre-election, the mood in Afghanistan seemed vaguely optimistic, although citizens remained acutely aware of the ever present problem of electoral fraud and corruption. “E-Day [election day] represents a chance — perhaps a last chance — at consolidation,” wrote Benjamin Skinner in Foreign Policy.
It’s celebratory with a dash of violence, says Jean MacKenzie in the Global Post: “Despite scattered rocket attacks, kidnappings, and explosions, there was a tangible holiday feel in the air as polls opened Saturday morning in the Afghan capital.”
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Other commentators were more cautious and critical of Afghanistan’s political prospects, particularly in relation to female politicians. Afghanistan employs affirmative actions in its parliament, with 68 out of the 249 seats set aside for women.
Back in 2005, just 19 of the 68 female parliamentarians won their seats thanks to votes, not the gender requirement, causing claims of illegitimacy. Things are changing, slowly, reports Jean MacKenzie in Global Post, but not fast enough for one female parliamentarian, 30-year-old Sabrina Saqeb, who was an active campaigner for women’s rights.
Saqeb — along with two other female MPs — won’t be re-contesting her seat, telling Global Post: “I think we will see a weaker parliament after this election…I am not optimistic that it will be strong enough to serve the nation. So what does this election mean?”
Fraud makes a significant difference in a country like Afghanistan. “But retail, or localized, fraud is often all that is needed to sway parliamentary elections where the margins can be tiny. Each province is allocated seats in Parliament based on a rough estimate of its population. (There has not been a census in decades.) The top vote getters in each province win the seats,” explains Alissa Rubin in the New York Times.
But democracy is a popular concept, with a recent poll by Democracy International finding 58% of polled Afghanis believing their nation is still a democracy and 76% planning to vote last Saturday. Only four million votes were cast though, apparently the least of any election in post-Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Last year’s tumultuous presidential elections saw five million votes cast.
So was the lower turnout due to concern for voter safety or political apathy? After the fraud allegations and green movement protests in the last year, cynicism would be unsurprising.
According to Christian Science Monitor, voter turnout was (perhaps unsurprisingly) larger in the safer cities than in the highly unstable rural regions, with Marvin Weinbaum, from Democracy International in Kabul, telling CSM: “How many would have voted if it was safe?…You can’t measure the intimidation. How do you evaluate that? That’s the real unknown here.”
The conditions of voting in Afghanistan make the possible salmonella from the Aussie election sausage seem tasty. “By 10:30am, election workers in the polling station at the new Marja high school said that only 27 people had turned up to vote and that the crack of gunfire in the streets was keeping most other people away. As the workers spoke, two booms from rocket-propelled grenades sounded about a quarter mile from the polling station. Marines later said that bullets from AK-47 fire were whizzing over the polling station around the same time,” reports Elisabeth Bumiller in the NY Times.
Some regions, like the village of Nagahan in the Arghandab region, faced ballot boxes with no supplies: no ink, no paper, no pens, apparently due to a “misunderstanding”. No votes could be cast, even though voters were ready and waiting. “That was little comfort to the people of Arghandab, who now will have to wait another four years to cast their vote,” writes Alissa Rubin in the NY Times.
It doesn’t take much to impress officials though. “Afghan officials have hailed the election as a success, despite attacks on polling stations, a low turnout and extensive cheating,” says South Africa’s The Times.
Not everyone is celebrating. “Compared with the first parliamentary election, five years ago, or the presidential election last year, the cause of electoral democracy has hardly advanced. Indeed, it may have taken a step back,” argues The Independent.
Will this raise further questions of the effectiveness of the Afghanistan War? Barack Obama is worried. “The Obama administration is quietly working to lower expectations for this weekend’s parliamentary election in Afghanistan, worried that a messy outcome will fuel U.S. public doubt over the nine-year war,” says Reuters’ Sue Pleming.
Soon you’ll be able to track an interactive map of where the worst voter fraud was undertaken in Afghanistan, once the AfghanistanElectionData.org website is updated. They’ve already mapped the 2009 presidential election for a comparison.
Final election results are not expected until October. Stay tuned.