In The News

From Afghanistan: Observation of the August 20th Elections

September 9, 2009

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), supported by The Asia Foundation with funding from AusAID and USAID, observed the recent 2009 Presidential and Provincial Council elections. With 55 observers representing 13 Asian countries, ANFREL teams covered 12 provinces in the North (Balkh, Smanagan, Faryab, Sar-e-Pul, Jawzjan), North East (Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar, and Badakhshan), and Central (Kabul, Panjshir, and Parwan) regions of Afghanistan. Having also observed the 2004 and 2005 elections, ANFREL has experience covering Afghanistan. However, this year, the deteriorating security situation led to extraordinary security arrangements, which made it difficult for the observers to monitor the entire election process. In Kunduz, Baghlan, and Jowzjan, movement was especially restricted on polling day. The challenges were many.

Because of the security situation, ANFREL observers had difficulty in gauging whether or not voters’ enthusiasm, which they witnessed in most provinces, would actually translate into votes. Factors other than security also kept Afghans, especially women, from voting. These factors included illiteracy, little to no experience with elections, and insufficient education on the elections – and women’s right to participate in them. Still, in a few pockets of the country, the ANFREL observers noted the turnout of women voters was encouraging.

The misuse of government resources is another area of concern, as some government officials were apparently unable to maintain their neutrality. The abuse of official positions and resources to benefit favored candidates were common allegations observed by ANFREL.

Afghanistan’s elections were held under extraordinary security arrangements. Despite the threats, intimidation, and violence, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan conducted the process relatively efficiently without allowing it to be disrupted. The elections were conducted within the given timeline, and with some semblance of professionalism. In almost every province where ANFREL observers were present, they reported that the election officials were reasonably efficient and well-trained. The Elections Complaints Commission (ECC) also made some crucial decisions over the adjudication of complaints of fraud and irregularities.

Finally, in Northern and Central Afghanistan, ANFREL teams noted that the candidates’ campaigns seemingly ignored ethnicities and other traditional barriers and campaigned in each district. While only the rich and well-known candidates attracted huge gatherings, all candidates attempted to focus on issues important to the entire electorate, such as development and security.

Regarding fraud, it remains to be seen if the detected cases will have an impact on the elections’ legitimacy. The reported fraud cases include the use of multiple voter cards, underage voters, and vote buying. In many polling stations with ANFREL observers, the quality of indelible ink used was extremely poor, which increased the chances of fraud. Many voters demonstrated how the ink could be wiped off within a few minutes after the polling process.

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