By Amanda Hodge
AFGHANISTAN'S weekend parliamentary election was a seller's market for voters who hawked their support around candidates' offices looking for the highest bidder, according to observers.
Details of a thriving voter blackmarket emerged yesterday, along with more allegations of ballot-box stuffing and vote fraud.
Analyst and parliamentary hopeful Haroun Mir said vote-selling was rife throughout Greater Kabul and particularly the rural areas, where voters openly hocked their votes to the candidates willing to pay the highest price.
"The problem with the blue ink is that it can be washed off, so we complained, and the ink was changed to black, which couldn't be removed."
In fact, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan said people were able to wash the ink off their fingers in 2,950 polling stations across the country.
In Logar province, one man said that some had voted many times.
"Some people in our neighbourhood voted several times: they managed to clean their fingers and used fake voting cards to vote again and again," he told the BBC.
But ink was not the only problem. Fake voting cards were discovered in a number of provinces, sometimes in their thousands.
About 2500 candidates stood for 249 lower house seats. In Kabul, 664 candidates vied for just 33 seats.
"In my electorate office, my staff were getting calls right up till . . . election day saying, 'We have three voter registration cards in our family. How much will you give us for our votes?' " Mr Mir said. "Money was a very important factor in this election and that was very disappointing. "They're selling their vote for $US10, $US20 or $US100 but they don't seem to realise they're selling their destiny."
Mr Mir said he was disappointed by the low voter turnout, which he estimated could even have dipped below 20 per cent in Kabul city, indicating a deep apathy and disillusionment.
One international NGO observer said the going price for a single vote was 300 ($7) to 500 Afghanis. "It's quite a marketplace now," the observer told The Australian yesterday.
"I think this system, the kind of monetisation of politics here, has become much more pronounced since the last election."
A large number of violent incidents witnessed by independent election observers involved not the Taliban but warlords, local powerbrokers and militia seeking to influence the poll result.
Afghanistan's independent watchdog FEFA (Free and Fair Elections Foundation) yesterday called on the Electoral Complaints Commission and the country's higher justice authorities to take actions against those involved. FEFA said the Taliban were responsible for 276 incidents, but warlords and powerbrokers carried out hundreds of acts of violence and intimidation.
"The most serious cases were carried out by warlords and militia in the provinces," chairman Nader Nadery said. "We observed more than 300 cases of direct intimidation by warlords."
But he said the fact that an estimated four million Afghans braved the polling stations showed a large portion of the population was deeply committed to a democratic future.
"We can't make it perfect overnight," Mr Nadery said. "We have to practise time and again to have a flawless election."