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Afghanistan: As Elections Results Certified, Questions Of Irregularities Continue To Cast Shadow

Voting on 18 September (epa) As the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) is set to announce the final certified results for the 18 September elections for the Afghan National Assembly's People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) and provincial councils, the allegations of fraud and the manner in which they charges have been dealt with places an unnecessary cloud over the new parliament.

The September polls represented the final step of the plans laid out in the December 2001 Bonn agreement, which ushered in a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. With the completion of the elections -- according to the plans agreed to in Bonn by an assemblage of Afghan political forces with United Nations and international backing -- Afghanistan has now, at least on paper, put in place all of the necessary institutions needed to become a democratic state.

This fundamental step in Afghanistan's march toward a democratic system was held amid threats by the neo-Taliban and their allies against candidates and in a country with very little, if any, democratic experience. This Herculean task was made further difficult in a country with minimal communication and transportation facilities and a population with illiteracy rates as high as 70 percent.

Beyond security risks and lack of sufficient time for the public to become informed about a very complicated election process, with some 2,760 candidates running for the 249 seats in the People's Council, and more than 3,000 candidates running for seats in 34 provincial councils, it was expected that some 5,000 candidates would not win.

Afghanistan is a country where confidence to governmental authority has diminished to its lowest point as a result of the last quarter-century, when governments either did not exert any power beyond the presidential palace in Kabul or were busy destroying the people and stealing their lives and dreams. Also, in a society where tribal norms dominate and regard losing in an election an affront to a candidate's social stature, it should have been expected that there would be charges, valid or otherwise, of irregularities in the polls.

JEMB officials indicated in early October that with about 80 percent of the ballots counted, they found what "The New York Times" on 3 October described as "significant cases" of fraud.

Peter Erban, chief of operations at the JEMB, said at the time that ballot boxes from 1,000 of the country's 26,000 polling stations were marked for investigation of possible irregularities, the paper reported. When clear cases of fraud are found, he said, the votes in question will not be counted.

"I do not believe these irregularities in any way have affected the overall elections, but some of them have surely affected them locally," Erban said, adding that "tough action" is forthcoming.

What has been missing, at least to most ordinary Afghans, are transparent examples of the tough action promised by the JEMB.

According to an 8 November report in the Herat daily "Etefaq-e Islam," in response to claims by a number of Afghan human rights activists that the September polls have been "undemocratic," JEMB Chairman Besmellah Besmel said that the international community has approved the elections and leaders of various countries have already sent messages of congratulations to Afghanistan attesting to the validity of the electoral process.

While it is true that international validation of the polls in Afghanistan provides credibility to the process, in the end it's the people of Afghanistan who have to deal with the results and need to feel that the process overall has been a fair and just one, while being mindful given the difficult circumstances in which the elections were held.

Afghans did not exhibit the same enthusiasm for the September elections as they did for the presidential poll conducted in October 2004. The message of the lower-than-expected turnout was one of frustration with the democratization process. Leaving the people with more questions regarding the counting process only adds to their lack of confidence in the future course of their country.

Afghanistan Votes

Afghanistan Votes

RFE/RL's complete coverage of the historic September 18, 2005, legislative elections in Afghanistan.