The Afghan Human Rights Commission has recently expressed concerns over the possibility of massive fraud in this year’s presidential elections. The commission points to evidence suggesting extraordinary female voter registrations in a number of southern provinces - i.e. 72% in Logar province.
Should the international community allow this to happen this time, the Afghans’ hope for democracy and elected institutions will be severely dented.
The fraud and irregularities in the last presidential elections were not taken seriously as President Karzai was seen as consensus candidate by many players and who also drew a considerable vote from non-Pashtoon areas. Now, the population is very disenchanted with Karzai not only in the non-Pashtoon areas but considerably in the southern regions also.
President Karzai has belittled parliament in the eyes of the public by making it an irrelevant institution. Ignoring parliament’s decisions on i.e. impeachment of the present foreign minister and making mockery of the media law by throwing it in the rubbish bin, extending his tenure for several months and not bothering to establish an independent committee to oversee the implementation of the constitution, as stipulated in the Bonn conference, are only a few examples of Karzai team’s utter disregard to the country’s constitution and elected institutions.
Should the incumbent and his incompetent come to power again, through fraud and rigging, the country is likely to edge closer to total collapse. Karzai created a so-called independent office for local administration some time ago to directly appoint his cronies to provinces who could work for his re-election through whatever means possible.
Such actions, instead of empowering the provinces and regions by decentralizing power will further add to public disenchantment when they see un-elected and unpopular figures being imposed on them.
Karzai’s nomination of Marshall Fahim as a running mate is an example of how he enters into alliances with unpopular individuals instead of empowering the regions to have their elected representatives play major roles in the country and in their regions. Another example was the imposition of Hamdard on two northern provinces as governor which caused server public disillusionment and led to violent protests causing dozens of casualties a couple of years ago. It seems that the only means available for Karzai to get back to power is to embark on massive fraud and stir up ethnic tension.
North-South voters divide
Now, look at an example of how fraud was carried out in the south in the past elections and how it will repeat in this election.
The rights body’s concern about massive female registration in a number of southern provinces show that past malpractices, on a much larger scale, are about to be repeated in this election.
The extent of past election irregularities and fraud can easily be gauged from a comparison of votes between the three northern provinces of Parwan, Panjshir and Kapisa with the three southern provinces of Paktia, Khost and Paktika in past elections.
The reason for this specific comparison is the relative parity between the population size of these provinces, based on the census of June 1979 and the Central Statistics Office’s adjusted estimates of 2003. However, this comparison by no means discounts the possibility of irregularities in other provinces. Comparing all provinces is way beyond the scope of this analysis.
From the comparative figures below, one can see that the combined population of the three southern provinces in 1979 was 727,000 and that of the three northern provinces was 755,000. The population of the northern provinces was slightly bigger than the southern ones. But for the sake of easy comparisons, we will disregard this difference.
However, despite these statistics, the three southern provinces were allocated 14 seats in parliament while the northern provinces were allocated 12. Also, the population of Pashtoon nomads has been guestimated at 1.5m in the 2003 census to allocate 10 seats for them in the parliament.
An interesting ballot figures emerged in the 2004 presidential elections, where 714,000 votes were cast in the southern trio, while only 277,000 in the northern trio. This was despite the Joint Electoral Management Body or JEMB’s claim of some 650,000 votes that were allegedly cast by refugees in Pakistan. Assuming that some 200,000 of these votes represented refugees from these three southern provinces, the total votes from the southern trio reaches 914,000 (more than three times that of the northern provinces). How is this possible and what can justify such huge manipulations and frauds
In the last parliamentary elections, there were again disturbing reports that elections were rigged, particularly, in Kabul, [southern] Ghazni and in many south-eastern provinces. Many candidates were outraged by the scale of rigging and irregularities. There has been abundant evidence of election officials being seen adding bundles of ballot papers to the piles of particular candidates, and several other incidents of fraud.
The average female voter turnout of some 60 per cent were shown for these three southern provinces, whereas in the relatively liberal provinces of Kabul, [western] Herat and [northern] Mazar-e Sharif, the average female turnout was below 40 per cent. How can one explain such a high female turnout in the south where women are hardly treated well?
In last elections, some 502,000 voter cards were issued in this province (Paktia) alone, whereas its population, according to the census of 2003, is 352,000. Exaggerated voter turnout, particularly in these three provinces - the highest in Afghanistan- was a political disaster. Massive fraud in Paktia was only the tip of the iceberg. More than 1,240,000 voter cards were issued in these three provinces, whereas their combined population based on the 2003 census is only 1,067,000. Can there be any bigger irregularity than this? Women’s cards bore no pictures. And the JEMB printed 40 million ballot papers with no justifications.
Karzai, his team not reformable?
It is a pity that some of our politicians have not learned from decades of turmoil caused by past prejudices, injustices, selfishness and desire for tribal superiority and are still inspired by such tendencies rather than national interests.
Such injustices, a lack of an appropriate mechanism to fairly share power and resources throughout the country have already resulted in ethnic tensions and loss of many golden opportunities.
Should the international community allow this to continue, the hope of winning hearts will never materialize. From the very beginning the US administration opted for quick and superficial fixes in Afghanistan rather than nation-building through true democracy and social justice. Recent remarks by US officials of "lowering their expectations" for democracy in Afghanistan and the UK envoy’s call for a so-called "acceptable dictatorship" for Afghanistan have further emboldened and encouraged people like Karzai and his team to further centralize power and resort to even more undemocratic and dictatorial means. Karzai and his team lost seven golden years. Will he change habit this time - at age 55?