[A week ago, the staging of a “demonstration election” in Afghanistan–another in a series of shabby attempts to wrap the imperialist war with the claim of “democracy”–became another self-exposure of a cynical and corrupt oppressive regime and foreign occupation. Those who may have missed the details can find some of them in this article from The Guardian (UK). This week, another demonstration election is being held for the Afghanistan parliament; see the following article from the New York Times for details on the buying of votes.-ed.]
Afghanistan: Making things worse
The Guardian, Wednesday 9 September 2009
Hamid Karzai yesterday won the Afghan election, except that he didn’t. He was credited with substantially more than the 50% of the votes he needs in order to be deemed to have won in the first round, but the electoral complaints process is at the same time stripping him of votes and could end, perhaps after many weeks, by knocking him back below the halfway mark.The dilemma for Barack Obama and other western leaders is that they could soon face a choice between being complicit in a deeply flawed election or embarking on the dangerous and difficult course of forcing a second round. If the Electoral Complaints Commission gets the backing and resources needed to fully investigate fraud allegations, something which the outside powers can either ensure or choose to neglect, a second round will almost certainly be the result.
When America and its allies began to scrape together the extra troops and money needed to conduct a presidential election in Afghanistan, they knew in advance it would be something of a charade. They had succeeded neither in persuading Hamid Karzai to reform his way of governing nor in cultivating politicians from whose ranks a different sort of leader could have emerged to challenge him. Mr Karzai, by using his network of warlord governors, buying up some northern bosses, and drawing on his natural supporters in the south of the country, would prevail in the vote.
His rivals would flail away but had no real chance even if there was a second round. The result would be a very expensive foregone conclusion, and the best the outside powers could hope for was to somehow get through it without too much trouble. Then, having performed the necessary, and cursory, obeisance to democratic procedures, they could get on with the war along the lines being plotted by America’s new generals and diplomats in the region, tackling Mr Karzai and his many faults afterwards.
Their mistake was that, while they expected the voters to be squired, bribed, pressured and marshalled to the polls by local chieftains, they did not expect barefaced rigging and ballot box stuffing on the scale which now seems to have occurred. “This was fraud en masse,” one western diplomat told the New York Times, alleging that Mr Karzai’s men set up hundreds of fictitious polling stations which registered hundreds of thousands of ballots in his favour. He and other western diplomats and officials also said that the Karzai organisers took over around 800 legitimate stations, kept out citizens and stuffed boxes with fake votes.
The elders of one tribal grouping told reporters how they had decided to support Abdullah Abdullah, Mr Karzai’s main rival, but when they arrived at the polling station they found it locked and officials inside filling the boxes with “their” votes, all for Mr Karzai. The fraud was so ham-handed that in some provinces the number of votes registered for Mr Karzai was 10 times as many as those who actually voted, whether for Mr Karzai or any of the other candidates.
The Electoral Complaints Commission yesterday discarded 200,000 votes as too dubious to be counted. The trouble is that although more international oversight might limit fraud a second time around, Mr Karzai would still almost certainly win, since few believe that the Pashtun population will vote in any numbers for Abdullah Abdullah, a candidate they regard as a Tajik, in spite of the fact that he is half Pashtun.
The most fundamental problem of all is that Mr Karzai could have won without any rigging at all. But he apparently could not bring himself to trust the people or the democratic system to which he is in theory committed. As a matter of principle the outside powers should press for the most thorough investigation of fraud and for a second round if need be. But, with or without that second round, it has to be unhappily concluded that this election has made things worse rather than better in Afghanistan.
New York Times, September 17, 2010
Afghan Votes Come Cheap, and Often in Bulk
By ROD NORDLAND
KABUL, Afghanistan — How much does it cost to buy an Afghan vote?
Saturday’s parliamentary elections offer a unique opportunity to ascertain that price — and it is in theory a market with many buyers, as 2,500 candidates scramble for only 249 seats.Afghanistan may be a feudal society in many ways, but it is very much capitalist feudalism (as the Soviets found out to their regret).
Nonetheless, prices are low. In northern Kunduz Province, Afghan votes cost $15 each; in eastern Ghazni Province, a vote can be bought for $18. In Kandahar, they sell their rights for as little as $1 a ballot. More commonly, the price seems to hover in the $5 to $6 range, as quoted to New York Times reporters in places like Helmand and Khost Provinces.
Even by the standards of a country rated as one of the poorest in the world, Afghans seem to be selling their votes cheap, and it is not so surprising why.
Five dollars is a lot of money when more than half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Indeed, in many rural parts of the country there is nothing in the way of a legitimate cash economy. References are often heard to the Ten-Dollar-a-Day Taliban, occasional laborers enlisted in cash-for-work projects like burying roadside bombs.
Vote buying is much more common in this election than the last national balloting here last year. The feeling, experts say, was that last year’s election was stolen wholesale by supporters of President Hamid Karzai, so there was little need for vote buying.
There may also have been less outright vote buying because it was most likely that Mr. Karzai would have won even without election fraud, as the incumbent and a member of the Pashtun ethnic group, the country’s largest.
This time, many well-heeled Afghan independent candidates are looking to buy their way into the lucrative sinecure of a seat in Parliament. That not only comes with a healthy salary — about $2,200 a month gross — but tremendous opportunities for graft.
And this time, a combination of voter apathy and disenchantment, far greater insecurity and a fairly small number of votes needed to win any individual seat have combined to, as an economist would put it, create a market. In many places, as few as 2,500 votes are enough to clinch the election.
And Osman Shenwari, 60, a malek, or village mayor, from the Spinghar District of Nangarhar Province, says he knows one candidate in his area who has already purchased 10,000 voter registration cards.
“The candidates send their representatives to every village and district center to look for people who want to sell their voting cards, and they pay 500 afghanis for each card,” he said. That’s about $11 each.
In many places, so-called vote maleks organize the trade. These are brokers who collect all the voter registration cards in a community, and then peddle them to the highest bidder. Typically, the vote malek keeps half of the money and the voters get half. “You should know that our leaders are big-belly people,” said Mr. Shenwari, “and they care about themselves more than anyone else.”
Of course, not every Afghan vote is for sale, and Mr. Shenwari is one of those who disapprove of trafficking in votes. “I am telling you if fraud takes place during the parliamentary elections this time, the Taliban will definitely come back,” he said.
Hajji Fazal Rahman Jalal, 45, a tribal leader in the Andar District of Ghazni, said: “I don’t think people in Ghazni Province will vote for people who try to pay for their votes. The person who sells his vote sells his own conscience.”
Such scruples did not seem to bother one candidate from Ghazni City whom local elders accused of going door to door in villages offering voters $5 apiece for their registration cards.
That would have been quite a bargain, because when an Afghan translator who spoke Pashtun with a local accent called the candidate and said he had 200 registration cards to sell on behalf of his village, the candidate immediately offered him $15 each.
He wanted to know how many of the cards were for female voters; those are more valuable because, out of respect for cultural sensitivities, women’s registration cards do not bear photographs, so they are easy for anyone to use. In many places, families do not allow women to leave their homes, so the men of the family normally cast their votes for them.
The translator asked for $25 each and the customary haggling ensued; the candidate’s last price was $18 each, but only if the seller could deliver the actual voters along with their registration cards to cast ballots for him.
“O.K., come to my office and we will talk; I want to see the cards to make sure the serial numbers are legitimate,” he said. “If the I.E.C. sees any fake cards, they will invalidate my whole ballot box.” I.E.C. stands for the Independent Election Commission.
There is also a market in fake voter registration cards, which are run off in printers’ shops in Peshawar, across the border in Pakistan, reportedly at 23 cents apiece.
Reports are that millions have flooded into the country, but the election commission insists its officials will be able to spot the fakes easily.
That makes the real cards much more valuable. Voters who are cynical about the political process or intimidated by Taliban threats can sell their cards without actually having to risk a trip to the polls.
The candidate’s campaign workers then use them on the “vote early and often” Chicago model.
In theory, everyone who has voted has to have a finger marked with indelible dye, but in practice that often does not happen — especially in areas where the Taliban have threatened to amputate inky fingers, which also happen to be areas that are too unsafe for election monitors to go.
In Mr. Karzai’s presidential election, it was particularly in such dangerous districts where huge numbers of votes were cast fraudulently, which was easy to spot since the ballots cast sometimes outnumbered the living. This time around the country is twice as dangerous, but at least the vote crooks will have to pay for what they steal.
Reporting was contributed by Afghan employees of The New York Times from Kabul, Nangarhar, Khost, Kunduz, Helmand and Kandahar Provinces.