Fraud and violence expected to mar Afghan parliamentary poll

Sat, Aug 21, 2010, 01:00

AFGHANISTAN’S UPCOMING parliamentary elections are expected to face the same violence, intimidation and fraud which blighted last year’s presidential poll.

The West has agreed to fund the €120 million elections, which were supposed to be a democratic milestone for the country, but diplomats have privately abandoned hope of anything approaching a free or fair vote on September 18th. The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), which today publishes its first monitoring report into the election campaign, has catalogued dozens of examples of violence against candidates or misuse of government resources.

Warlords, the Taliban and rival candidates have all been blamed for the intimidation and at least eight people have been assassinated, including three candidates.

Last year’s August 20th poll was the most violent day of 2009, with voters too scared to turn out in swathes of the south.

Several candidates said security this year was worse, despite the arrival of 30,000 American reinforcements ordered by Barack Obama. Nader Nadery, director of FEFA, said: “There’s more intimidation, there’s more attacks on female candidates and other candidates. There’s assassination of candidates.

“Areas in the south are becoming more and more insecure and areas in the north are becoming more and more intimidating for the weaker candidates.”

Mirwais Yasini, former deputy speaker of the parliament’s lower house and a candidate in Nangahar, said there were several districts in the province where it was impossible to campaign.

He said: “It’s far, far worse than last year. If these elections go well, perhaps democracy in this country can take off. If they don’t, it could crash forever.”

The presidential poll saw more than a million fake votes disqualified, mostly for Mr Karzai.

As the scale of the fraud emerged, the United Nations erupted in infighting as Peter Galbraith, the deputy UN envoy, accused the UN chief, Kai Eide of failing to tackle the rigging.

Mr Karzai meanwhile, remains mistrustful and bitterly convinced the Americans and UN tried to deny him a legitimate win, one envoy said. The United Nations has far fewer election workers this year after it withdrew half its 1,200 foreign staff from Afghanistan when five were killed in a Taliban assault on a Kabul guesthouse. With fewer staff and reluctant to reopen the wounds of last year, the United Nations has taken a backseat, while the West has failed to push for electoral reform, one diplomat said.

“We have gone so far beyond expecting free and fair elections,” said the diplomat. “They are just not going to happen.The UN mission is stepping completely back from the elections. They don’t want to get burnt again.”

Mr Karzai unilaterally rewrote the country’s election law in February with a presidential decree that is widely considered to have emasculated the watchdog which rejected his fraudulent presidential votes.

Mr Nadery added: “The international community has pushed the bar so low. They don’t even talk about standards.” The Taliban has yet to issue a decree on whether people should vote, but local commanders have already independently begun warning off voters and candidates.

Saleh Registani, a former MP from the Panjshir Valley, now running in Kabul, said: “If you hold elections in an insecure country in an insecure situation then you have to wait for some kind of fraud to happen.”