Despatch from Kabul | International

The election commission in its labyrinth

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 28: Afghan vote in a key Presidential election on September 28, 2019 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghans head to the polls today as the Taliban have condemned the election stating that Afghan voters should prepare to be targeted. The country is struggling with unrelenting violence and a very high death toll for August as many question whether it is worrth showing up to vote in the upcoming Presidential elections. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)  

The much-delayed Afghan presidential election was held on September 28 with a dismal turnout of nearly 2.6 million voters. However, the low polling numbers, representing less than a third of the 9.6 million registered voters, are less of a concern for the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) than the actual process of counting valid votes and announcing results.

The IEC had announced that votes not verified by biometric identification would not be included in the final tally, upsetting political figures such as Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, Speaker of the Senate. Mr. Muslimyar, on Tuesday, threatened to get the IEC to count the votes, saying: “We will make even their father count... How can you violate people’s right?”

While he later apologised for the comments, Mr. Muslimyar stood by the demand to include votes in districts where biometric verification was not possible or unavailable. On the other side, rival candidates, fearing the possibility of fraud and ballot-stuffing, have insisted on including only the votes with biometric verification. The debate has triggered concerns among voters that a potential political crisis is brewing.

Already, two of the major candidates have declared that they have most votes, even though the IEC is yet to finish counting. The preliminary results are scheduled to be released on October 19. “The results will be announced by the IEC, but we have the most votes. The election is not going to go to a second round,” Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s Chief Executive and President Ashraf Ghani’s main rival in the election, told the local media on September 30. Later that evening, in a separate gathering, Amrullah Saleh, the running mate of President Ghani, made a similar claim.“The information that we have received show that 60% to 70% of people voted for us,” he said, indicating that a dispute, similar to the one five years ago, can’t be ruled out. Allegations of fraud and corruption in 2014 led to a deadlock despite two rounds of polling. Eventually, the U.S. stepped in and brokered a deal to form a national unity government, led by both President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah.

‘Be patient’

The IEC has dismissed the claims of both Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Saleh, and asked the candidates to be patient.

“The Afghanistan Constitution is clear about this. Election management falls under our purview and it is our job to announce the result. Our job is to comply with what the Afghan people have decided and we will soon announce who the Afghans have chosen,” an IEC official told The Hindu, requesting anonymity. Representatives of both candidates who spoke to The Hindu clarified that their assertions were based on data gathered by election observers and monitors.

Basir Mohamadi, a member of Mr. Saleh’s Afghanistan Green Trend party, assured that their team was waiting for the announcement from the IEC and would respect its decision. “We strongly believed in the elections right from the beginning, even when all others did not have any belief in the elections, had no plan or agenda for it. We’ve had the plan from the start and we implemented it and have campaigned in a timely manner,” he said, while asked why his team was confident that the Ghani-Saleh ticket was in the forefront.

Zalmai Nishat, a senior public policy adviser to the Office of the Chief Executive, said Mr. Abdullha’s comment was a cautious step to reassert the guidelines that only biometric votes would be counted. “The issue was not about questioning the process at all; Dr Abdullah did say we will wait for [the results to be announced]. But we wanted to reiterate that the guidelines and processes previously agreed upon would be followed strictly,” he said.

“Perhaps there was no need for [Mr. Abdullah] to say what he said, but there are worries that the agreement made beforehand and as per the electoral law of accepting only biometric votes could be violated,” Mr. Nishat said.

According to Afghan election laws, if no candidate secures more than 50% of the votes, a run-off will be held between the two leading candidates. Interestingly, a later date has already been set for the anticipatory second round in November. Many voters expressed the hope that the candidates would respect the eventual decision of the IEC, and that if it comes to the second round, they were willing to step out again to cast their vote. “Voting is our obligation to our country. If you don’t vote, then you don’t have the right to complain about the government,” one of the voters in Kabul said.

(Ruchi Kumar is a journalist based in Kabul)


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Printable version | Sep 19, 2021 12:02:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/the-election-commission-in-its-labyrinth/article29605558.ece

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