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The Sydney Morning Herald, September 17, 2010

Hazardous for foreigners, catastrophic for locals

"It will be messy, fiercely contested and manipulated at all levels. Fraud is likely to again be blatant, unsophisticated and widespread."

By Paul McGeough

THE United Nations has ordered 300 of its international staff out of Afghanistan and the British commander of foreign troops in the south of the country predicts mayhem as violence and corruption collide as 13 million Afghan voters attempt to elect a new national parliament today.

So if it is going to be that bad for the foreigners, what's in it for the locals? Sadly, and despite some amendments to the election laws, the answer appears to be more of the outrageous electoral fraud that robbed last year's presidential poll of any integrity and revealed the President, Hamid Karzai, as nothing more than a crook in a colourful coat.

The US democracy group, the International Republican Institute, is fielding a team of just five foreign observers, compared with 10 last year; and its team of local observers had been cut from 160 to 40. The European Union, which sent a team of 120 to monitor last year's poll, has just seven observers in Kabul this weekend.
The closure of more than 1000 of the country's 6835 polling stations because of violence has heightened anxiety that as many as 1.5 million voters will be disenfranchised.
The Sydney Morning Herald, Sep. 18, 2010

Given that the parliament is intended as a check on the power of the president and the Kabul executive, today's vote is as important as last year's. But with violence in much of the country at its worst since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, many international electoral agencies have slashed their monitoring teams.

The US democracy group, the International Republican Institute, is fielding a team of just five foreign observers, compared with 10 last year; and its team of local observers had been cut from 160 to 40. The European Union, which sent a team of 120 to monitor last year's poll, has just seven observers in Kabul this weekend.

The closure of more than 1000 of the country's 6835 polling stations because of violence has heightened anxiety that as many as 1.5 million voters will be disenfranchised. Even the American spin machine was hard-pressed to put a gloss on events with the release this week of a report by the Congress-appointed special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which predicted that today's polling would be as bad as last year's.

The report described the absence of reliable electoral rolls, poor candidate vetting and a partisan electoral administration as "long-term issues that will take years to address".

In a 30-page study of the electoral process, Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts' Network, warned: "It will be messy, fiercely contested and manipulated at all levels. Fraud is likely to again be blatant, unsophisticated and widespread." Using last year's provincial council elections as the basis of her study, van Bijlert concluded that most of the successful candidates seemingly had done so by manipulating the process.

Despite likely winners in today's vote needing substantial margins, she warned that the widespread availability of fraudulent voter cards would tempt candidates to maximise their position - because of a belief that their opponents would use the dodgy cards and, at the same time, seek to have big chunks of their rival's voter-tally disqualified on the basis that they had used the fraudulent cards.

She writes: "Many of them, having learnt from the 2009 controversies and audits, will try to ensure that the fraud is less easily detectable … It will not fundamentally change the way many voters view the elections - as a competition between strongmen and manipulators."

Citing strong indications that Karzai's entourage had been actively mobilising influential powerbrokers in a bid to have a more pliant parliament elected, she concluded: "It is by no means certain that they will be able to monopolise the vote, as many other serious candidates are equally prepared to hijack the local elections - whether through fraud, violence or more benign forms of mobilisation."

Voters will choose 249 members of the lower house of the parliament from among more than 2500 candidates.

Category: HR Violations, Corruption - Views: 3236


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