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Afghanistan: Afghans Debate Fairness Of Election, Look Ahead To Parliamentary Vote

Ordinary Afghans have been discussing how the country's historic presidential election was conducted on 9 October and whether the vote was free and fair. RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz and Freshta Jalalzai have been asking Afghan voters what they learned from their first exercise in democracy. All of those interviewed said they were excited about being able to vote. And those who said they were disappointed by the voting process were eager to suggest ways to correct what they see as faults in the system ahead of the more complicated parliamentary elections in 2005.

Kabul, 14 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Ahmad Fardin is a student at Kabul University who was a poll worker for the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) during the 9 October presidential election.

Fardin said that what he witnessed leads him to believe that the election was not free and fair: "I saw that people were pressured [by unarmed men] about how they should vote. Also, the ink [used to prevent multiple voting] could be wiped off the fingers of voters very quickly. I saw a person who voted at least three times and saw that this election was illegal."

When questioned further about the man he saw voting three times, Fardin said he did not stop the voter and did not file any formal complaint through the JEMB. He said he felt there was nothing he could do about the situation because the man had an unpunched voter-registration card each time he went through the voting queue, and there was no visible sign of ink on his fingers each time he voted.

Fardin said that as the JEMB prepares for parliamentary elections in Afghanistan in 2005, it should put additional measures in place to avoid multiple voting. He said voter-registration cards should not be given back to voters after having a cancellation hole punched in them. Instead, he suggests that each polling station keep the canceled voter-registration cards.

In that way, he said, poll workers will be able to immediately identify somebody trying to vote more than once at the same polling station. And after the vote, different polling stations could cross-reference the registration cards they have collected to determine if the same person has voted at different polling stations.

Other students at Kabul University disagreed with Fardin about intimidation near polling stations. Among them was Fariha, a 20-year-old woman enrolled in the science faculty who wears a long black skirt, high-heeled shoes, and makeup. Fariha said she thinks there might have been voter intimidation in provincial regions, but not in Kabul.

She said she did not face intimidation when she voted at Kabul University: "We are prepared enough now for the parliamentary election. We didn't have any problems in the presidential vote, and we learned a lot."
"These elections were not as fair as people had thought they would be."

Khalil is a 25-year-old who runs a food shop from inside a small metal cargo container in Kabul. Having seen the way the election was conducted at the Khoshal Khan polling station on the capital's west side, Khalil said he thinks the results should be invalidated and that the vote should be conducted again.

"These elections were not as fair as people had thought they would be," Khalil said. "I saw some people who were campaigning for a candidate at the polling station -- a woman who was telling people to vote for [ethnic Hazara candidate Mohammad] Mohaqeq. And then I saw a woman representative of [Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid] Karzai's campaign. She was telling people not to listen to [Mohaqeq's representative]. These elections were very important because they were presidential elections, and there was fraud. And we believe it will happen again at the parliamentary elections. We are not happy."

Mohammad Isa is a 25-year-old farmer whose land in the Shakardara district north of Kabul was on the front lines between warring factions during much of the 1990s. In an attempt to stop the production of Afghan wine, the Taliban burned Isa's grape vines in the late 1990s. Isa's vineyards are only now beginning to recover. He expressed bitterness toward the militant factions that have waged war across his ravaged land.

"These people are so used to fighting against each other that they don't want Afghanistan to be calm and secure like other countries in the world," Isa said. "They wanted to fight and create security problems during the elections. But fortunately, there was nothing like that, and the elections have been free and fair -- and legal. Everybody voted independently. Nobody was forcing anybody to vote for a particular candidate. I do think that a lot of people were voting for Karzai -- and I don't think that one person could vote two or three times."

Thirty-five-year-old Ariff -- a Pashtun tribesman from Wardak Province, west of Kabul -- also said he didn't see anything illegal in the voting at the polling station where he cast his ballot.

"No, no. There wasn't anyone threatening us. Everybody voted the way they wanted to," Ariff said. "In our area, the election was free and fair. Even women were able to participate in large numbers. Everyone had the independence to vote the way they wanted. I didn't even see the problem with ink rubbing off the fingers at the place where I voted. God willing, the parliamentary elections will be just like this one -- free and fair."

Amina is a poor woman in her 60s with only one eye. From beneath a black veil, she told RFE/RL that she and her three daughters-in-law had been able to vote in eastern Afghanistan's Laghman Province without intimidation.

"I voted for the person I liked," Amina said. "Nobody told me to vote for this or that candidate. And there were a lot of women like me. I am surprised. It was calm. These elections were legal. We want a calm and peaceful Afghanistan. We are happy about the election."

Vote counting finally began today as a probe continues into allegations of fraud. A final result is expected to be announced later this month. Transitional leader Karzai is widely expected to garner more votes than any of the 15 other candidates. If no candidate wins a majority, the Afghan Constitution calls for a two-person runoff.

Meanwhile, the JEMB announced today that it has received the first report and recommendations from a panel of experts established to investigate the allegations of multiple voting.

The panel said ballot boxes from 10 polling centers -- with a total of about 50 polling stations -- should be set aside from the vote count so that the complaints can be investigated. The panel said ballot boxes from another 11 polling stations also should be quarantined as the official investigation continues.

The quarantined ballot boxes are from the Kabul, Wardak, Ghazni, and Logar provinces.

[For more on the Afghan elections, see RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" webpage.]