By Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam
Despite security threats and many other challenges, the historic turnout of Afghan voters in the April 5th elections has shown democracy in action. The Afghan people stalwartly contributed to their first-ever political transition from one elected president to another. However, legitimate concerns and questions about the impartiality of the electoral bodies and the leadership of the country persist among the people. Afghan voters and international donor organizations have the right to know about the transparency of the election process.
Afghan National Security Forces played a great role in providing security during the election days and enabled the Afghan people to take part in this election without fear in casting their votes. Insurgents and enemies of the Afghan people did their best to interrupt the process. But this time, the Afghan people defeated Taliban insurgents and terrorist groups not with bullets, but with ballots.
After weeks of waiting, the Afghan electorate still doesn’t know the election’s results. According to the electoral timeline the final election results will be announced on May 14th, 2014. The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) has completed the initial counting and the results have been handed over to the Independent Election Complaint Commission (IECC), which is also responsible for investigating election-related complaints.
According to the IECC yet there are over 2,000 complaints registered with the commission so far. These are corruption-related complaints about the election process. On May 1st, the IECC announced that at least half of the complaints registered with the commission are against the IEC and its staff. More than 1000 complaints against the IEC leadership and local staff show that the IEC staff worked in favor of individual candidates. This is a shocking figure and shows a very high level involvement of the IEC in promoting election fraud. This can be the worst news for a voter to learn that the commission and its staff, who is responsible for holding free and fair elections, may be responsible for a majority of the fraud in the election process.
However, corruption of the IEC staff is not a new revelation to the Afghan people. Prior to the recent elections, the same institution assured the Afghan people that they would prevent any possible kind of fraud. In 2009 presidential elections, it was the IEC who worked in favor of president Karzai and as a result Karzai was reaffirmed as a president. But the IECC was the only body responsible for fraud complaint sat the time the runoff was announced. However, the runoff did not happen, as Dr. Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the runoff and Karzai remained the president. Due to those uninvestigated massive fraud allegations during the 2009 election, Karzai’s legitimacy was a lingering question in the minds of many Afghans.
The 2009 elections concerned the United Nations and many international community representatives. As a result of mounting international pressure, the chairman of the IEC, Mr. Azizuallh Ludin and the chief electoral officer of the commission, Mr. Daoud Ali Najafi, resigned from their positions. The level of fraud in the 2009 elections was so high according to European Union election observers, one out of every four votes was suspect. Many in the international community expected that these top two IEC authorities would be held accountable or prosecuted for election fraud, and many Afghans expected them to go to jail. On the contrary, Mr. Ludin was appointed as the head of the High Office of Oversight for Anti-Corruption, and Mr. Najafi was promoted as a cabinet member and currently serves as a minister of transpiration and civil aviation.
Ignoring all the available documented reports about 2009 election fraud, and his own culpability in the rampant corruption, Mr. Najafi accused the UN and US officials of interfering in the election. Najafi claimed that a senior UN official threatened his life if he announced any election results without UN permission. All of those bad memories from 2009 surrounding Afghan electoral authorities left many questions and concerns in the minds of Afghans about the April 5th elections.
The IECC’s May 1st announcement shows that as many as 1,000 electoral complaints are against the IEC and its staff. To Afghans, this is yet another clear example that the IEC is not neutral and raises serious questions about a possible runoff election.
Many Afghan women and men participated in the April 5th elections at great risk to their lives, and they expect their votes to be respected by the IEC and IECC. The Afghan people look to the IECC as the responsible authority to review all legitimate election complaints. The Afghan people expect that IECC will respect electoral laws and remain impartial in addressing those complaints. The Afghan people expect transparency in the election results. This is the only way to ensure election legitimacy and broad acceptance of the election results. A lack of transparency in addressing the complaints will seriously undermine the legitimacy of the future government, and may even facilitate the undesired prolonged continuation of Karzai’s administration. A legitimacy crisis in the 2014 election serves the desires of Afghanistan’s enemies and corrupt officials, not the interests of the Afghan people.
There are some in the current administration who are willing to pay any price to extend their power beyond 2014, and they have no concern for the interests of regular Afghans. The enemies of Afghanistan are certainly hard at work to promote electoral chaos, but reasoned transparency and accountability will defeat those efforts and serve the long-term interests of the international community and the courageous Afghans who participated in the election with hope for a brighter future.
It seems as though we’ll find out shortly if the IEC and IECC will be part of the problem or the solution.
Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam is a senior research fellow at Civil Vision International (CVI) and chairman of Afghan Anti-Corruption Network (AACN). Readers can follow him on Twitter @shafiqhamdam. A version of this article was originally published by Civil Vision International.