On 20 October, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, spokesman for the special representative of the UN secretary-general to Afghanistan, said the JEMB has received 285 formal complaints. Without providing much detail, the spokesman said that around 180 of the complaints either "did not require action or action has been taken, or action is currently being taken." According to de Almeida e Silva, 45 percent of the complaints are about the application of what was supposed to be indelible ink to prevent multiple voting; he also described 13 percent of the complaints being "of a general nature" about the electoral process (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 October 2004). The spokesman said that just 5 percent of complaints were about multiple voting or underage voters. While de Almeida e Silva did not make the connection, the issue of indelible ink and multiple voting are directly related.
It is likely that the allegations of improprieties will tarnish Karzai's expected victory and that the losers will cry foul. However, a genuine desire of the majority of Afghans to move toward a better future, as illustrated by the huge election-day turnout, coupled with the fact that the electoral process was relatively free of violence, will lend the new president legitimacy.
There seems to be a rush on the part of the JEMB and most international organizations dealing with Afghanistan to bring the country's presidential election to an end quickly and to avoid a runoff. A clean result would indeed be good for Afghanistan -- but to achieve that, serious time and effort should be invested to address all legitimate complaints with transparency and clarity.
Moreover, as long as voices of dissent refrain from resorting to violence to make their points, they will represent assets for Afghanistan's march toward democracy. Some of the losers of the presidential election will likely try their chances in the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for April 2005, and will build on their experience gained in the presidential election.
Already there are candidates who are predicting the response of the panel of experts to the complaints. Homayun Shah Asefi said recently that the panel will "say that there are some technical mistakes" and "there was some limited fraud," but that "the extent of the fraud did not affect the legitimacy" of the election result.
If the finding of the panel concurs with Asefi's prediction, it ought to demonstrate this clearly. To do otherwise would put Afghanistan on the bumpy path toward a democratic society -- a distant and difficult task in itself given the realities in the country -- with a flat tire.
For news, analysis, and background on the Afghan elections, see our dedicated "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" webpage.