Preliminary Results for Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga Election
ISAF photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joseph Swafford
By Lauren Soelberg
Over a month after Election Day, the Afghan election body has finally released a preliminary list of winning candidates. However, nearly one quarter of all ballots so far have been dismissed as invalid. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) reports that nearly 5.6 million Afghans cast their vote on September 18 for nearly 2,500 candidates in the country's second parliamentary election in the post-Taliban era. Out of those 5.6 million, the IEC said that 1.3 million ballots had been declared invalid due to fraud. Invalid could mean anything from reports of ballot stuffing, administrative mismanagement, or being forced to vote at gunpoint, to a number of other allegations.
The preliminary results should be reported soon on the IEC website. An independent fraud commission has been tasked with the responsibility of sorting through the thousands of fraud and irregularity reports. According to IEC chairman, Fazl Ahmad Manawi, the elections were successful. Yet, he admits that “the results announced on Wednesday might change after the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) evaluates the irregularities.” Much of the success can be attributed to the high voter turnout, which has continued to decrease over past election cycles (despite increases in voter registration). Manawi said, "We can very proudly say that the turnout in this election process was higher than our expectations.” Given the threats of violence, allegations of fraud, and limited campaigning by those running for office, high voter turnout should be regarded as a success. Yet, it is too soon to tell whether the alleged high voter turnout was simply due to a larger volume of invalid ballots. Manawi also said that at least 224 candidates, including some of those who sought re-election to parliament, are being investigated for fraud.
The security situation on Election Day was equally dismal. Pajhwok Afghan News reports that “more than 300 security incidents occurred on Election Day despite about 400,000 Afghan and foreign security forces guarding the process. At least 11 civilians, three police and 27 militants were killed in election-related violence.” This is not including the number of violent threats carried out by Taliban and other insurgent groups that did not result in death.
Why should it matter to us?
The ideal outcome for coalition powers would be a smooth election, where the voter turnout was high and violence low. It would increase support for COIN operations and improve public opinion on Afghanistan. Scott Warden, from Afghan Analysts Network (AAN), reports that the West has tried to limit international media about the elections in hopes of minimizing the reports of fraud that could undermine their efforts to achieve the objectives previously stated. Warden also claims that Afghans are paying very close attention because, “the distribution of power within a province in many ways has more impact on local political dynamics than does the presidential election.” Being elected to parliament improves social status, incentivizing these positions while also increasing the fraud and violence that accompanies the elections.
The results of this election are important because they affect public opinion and support back home. A violent election tainted by fraud and complaints of irregularities does not bode well for continued support in the already fragile region. It would take a flawless election to convince the public that it is worth our time, money, and troops to remain in Afghanistan.
A few surprises
Despite the anticipated violence and fraud that marred the election, there were some surprising results. First, according to Pajhwok Afghan News, while the election law requires 68 seats to be filled by women, a total of 69 were elected on September 18, with women winning both seats allocated to the southwestern province of Nimroz. They also report that a nomadic Kuchi won the highest number of votes, contrary to the ethnic makeup of Afghanistan. So far, the IEC has announced that 72 Members of Parliament have been reelected, while a staggering 177 are first time MPs. What does this say about the electoral process? It is surprising that the incumbents were not re-elected simply out of apathy or ignorance. Are the Afghan people trying to show that they care about the democratic institution of elections? Or that they are unhappy with their current government? Either way, it somewhat resembles progress in this new Democracy, and can offer at least a kernel of hope.