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Afghanistan: RFE/RL Talks To Top Election Official

Marking the ballots on election day Afghanistan's civil society played an important role in the country’s election process. Afghans organized programs aimed at raising voter awareness and deployed a large number of independent native observers on election day. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the Foundation For Free and Fair Elections in Afghanistan (FEFA) were among the nongovernmental organizations to observe the election process on 18 September. In an interview with RFE/RL, Hossain Ramoz, the executive director of the AIHRC and FEFA's deputy director, discussed some of the organizations' findings regarding the election process.

Kabul, 22 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- During Sunday’s elections for the national parliament and a number of provincial councils, AIHRC and FEFA deployed some 8,000 observers in most of Afghanistan’s 6,200 polling centers.

With the vote now over, the same observers have moved on to monitoring the vote-counting centers across the country where collected ballots are being processed.

Some irregularities were reported on election day, and turnout was somewhat lower than at last October's presidential ballot. More than 70 percent of eligible voters cast ballots last November. By contrast, some 50 percent of voters turned out to elect members of the lower house of the National Assembly -- the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga -- as well as 34 provincial councils.

But generally, says AIHRC Director Hossain Ramoz, the voting was a success.

“Despite logistical problems all over Afghanistan, despite the problems women face, and despite the low awareness problem that exists in Afghanistan, I think [the elections] are a successful step at this juncture in Afghanistan’s history,” Ramoz says.

Ramoz says several factors contributed to the estimated 50 percent turnout. He says the large number of candidates -- some 5,800 in all -- created confusion for many voters. Others opted not to vote because of fears of violence and attacks by the Taliban militia.

"One of the factors was the atmosphere of fear and insecurity created by forces opposed to the government several months ahead of the elections. There was intimidation and warnings to people in rural areas that they should not participate in the elections. And also many of the candidates failed to get people acquainted with their platforms and their political views, and they were not successful in convincing voters about the [significance] of parliament, and why their presence in the [future] parliament could make a difference in citizens' lives," Ramoz says.

Of the 12 million registered voters, some 44 percent were women. It is still not clear, however, how many women actually went to the polls on 18 September to vote in Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections since 1969. Ramoz says he believes many women are under pressure not to participate in the vote.

“We still don’t have exact figures about women’s turnout on election day, but based on different reports, it seems that in comparison with men, fewer women participated. One reason is that the society reserves more rights for men, and unfortunately in most households the decisions are made by men. I think security issues were also one of the reasons [why fewer women participated than men]. The fact that many women did not have registration cards is another reason," Ramoz says.

Ramoz says that during the vote, some men voted using their wives' registration cards. He adds that other shortcomings were also reported, including a delay in the opening of some polling stations, and insufficient knowledge of electoral procedures on the part of some of the election workers.

“In many cases the opening of the voting centers were delayed or the ballot boxes arrived late, or logistical materials for election day were not ready -- that was one of the serious problems. There were only a few cases where the ink [used to mark voters' index fingers to prevent multiple voting] was washed away. The election workers had a poor knowledge of the electoral process, and for example some of the candidates used the opportunity and campaigned [in violation of the election procedure]. Cases of electoral fraud were also reported -- for example, the use of women’s registration cards by men,” Ramoz says.

Afghanistan’s electoral commission must now consider complaints that have been submitted regarding the conduct of the electoral process.

It is estimated that the counting of ballots will take two to three weeks. The final results are expected to be announced on 22 October.

See also:

RFE/RL Special: Afghanistan Votes 2005
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.