Every Thursday, RFE’s Afghan Service, Radio Azadi, broadcasts a two-hour call-in show,“On The Waves of Freedom.” Hosted by Zarif Nazar and Jan Alekozai, the show focuses on current events, politics, and social issues, with high-ranking officials and leading experts taking direct questions from listeners in Afghanistan via SMS, e-mail, and telephone.
This week, we discussed the results of September’s parliamentary elections -- and claims of rampant fraud in the polls -- with Abdul Ghafar Irfani, a senior adviser to Afghan Attorney General Ishaq Aleko, Tabish Ferogh, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), and Dr. Kabir Rangebar, a member of parliament who was defeated in the latest elections.
IEC official Ferogh acknowledged the multitude of problems with the September elections, but hedged against outright condemnation of the poll results. He admitted that of the IEC’s 86,000 workers across Afghanistan, telling us that "all of them are not angels, and some may have committed crimes or violated rules."
The office of Afghanistan’s attorney general does not take such a rosy view of the elections. Irfani said that officials were seeking the arrest of at least four IEC officials, nine "private citizens," and a worker at the UN mission in Afghanistan. There have already been numerous arrests associated with the polls.
IEC official Ferogh noted that the September elections cost international donors nearly $150 million and that it would be difficult to carry out a new poll -- which brought a stern rebuke from Irfani. "The Afghan people and government should not ignore the importance of democracy and rule of law. These values should not be sold at the cost of $149 million," Irfani said.
Many of our nearly 20 callers agreed. One, a parliamentary candidate named Rizi Mohammad Noor from Jouzjan Province, claimed that at least 2,600 votes for him were cancelled by the IEC with no legal basis. When asked by our guest from the Attorney General's Office why he hadn’t brought this to the attention of authorities, Noor replied that he had done so and received no reply from neither the IEC nor the Attorney General’s Office. Irfani told Noor that he would investigate the claim right away.
Amir, calling from Khost, complained that some 18,000 votes in his district had been deemed “invalid” for no stated reason. “The Jajimaidan District is one of the safest and secure districts in Afghanistan,” he told us. “But this security comes from local residents. Obviously, the IEC does not want Pashtun candidates to have power in parliament.”
One listener agreed with Amir’s point, going further to say that the vote had stoked ethnic tensions. In an email sent to the show, the listener wrote: "the release of these results is creating ethnic tensions as well as factional problems. In the new parliament, it looks like the number of the Pashtuns and Tajiks are almost equal. Add the Uzbeks and Hazaras, and the Pashtuns will be a small minority. Some politicians are saying that the IEC intentionally did not open a great number of polling stations in Pashtun areas. It looks like this is the case."
Other callers -- from Herat, Samangan, Khost, Kabul, and Wardak provinces -- expressed their frustration in regards to the fraud in the voting process, with some calling for new elections.
MP Rangebar, who is a lawyer, said that the election process had lacked legitimacy from the beginning, noting that while the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) had declared the polls legitimate and fair, Afghanistan’s own attorney general had said the opposite.
"Had the IEC obeyed the Afghan constitution and implemented the election bylaws, the current problems may not been happening,” Rangebar said. “According to Afghanistan’s constitution, the IEC should quarantine the suspected voting boxes, but cannot cancel and totally ignore the ballots."
Rangeber added that IEC officials had cancelled some 1.3 million ballots, but none of the candidates’ representatives or election observers were present during this process.
Irfan, from the Attorney General’s Office, urged listeners and candidates alike to be patient and give his office time to proceed with their investigations.
Clearly, September’s elections are still far from over. With ongoing investigations, possible arrests, and dwindling trust in the process, Afghans -- normal citizens and politicians -- are losing patience. In the coming weeks, we will continue to discuss this topic with the people directly involved in the process.
- Jan Alekozai & Zarif Nazar, Radio Azadi