The Majority Vote

by Sekundar on 9/22/2010 · 10 comments

The final results of the September 18 election in Afghanistan won’t be announced for days/weeks/ever, and so the 2502 candidates (including Safiullah Mujaddedi, wherever he is) must wait. On the surface, the elections seem to have gone better than 2009’s presidential election debacle; as Josh Foust has noted, violent incidents were down 37%, 92% of the polling places opened as planned, the IEC acted with greater independence, & etc. As much as we try to avoid single indicators, though, the most important figure of the election may be the at least 60% (more like 70%, according to some Afghan gov’t. figures) of the registered voters who wouldn’t or couldn’t vote in the election. In some places, like the relatively safe Kabul, turnout was light, and in the volatile South, some polling places never reported. In some cases, voters may have wanted to vote, but were prevented from doing so by the insurgents (such as in Marjah), and at least some of the voting total must be allotted to fraud.

Furthermore, the turnout has decreased from the 2009 election, when the low estimate of turnout was 40% (and the gov’t. estimates ran at around 50%). At least half the country voted then by not voting, and that number has grown. Whether the decline is due to fear of insurgent retribution, indifference, or anger, it is bad sign for Karzai. Before ISAF and GIRoA get too proud of the lower level of violence this year, they might take a hard look at why voter participation is declining.


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– author of 24 posts on Registan.net.

Sekundar works in national security, and has worked and studied in Central and South Asia.

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{ 10 comments }

Bobby September 22, 2010 at 6:54 am

As one of the international elections observers, I can say that at least some (as yet undetermined) number of Afghan voters were effectively denied the opportunity to vote due to IEC’s mismanagement. Per IEC rules, each polling station was only issued 600 ballots; in some more densely populated areas, where the IEC projections were accurate, they had multiple stations per center, but in many areas their forecast didn’t hold, only two stations were present (one male, one female), and the male station ran out of ballots (in one case that I observed, by 11am). Voters had the option of waiting around and hoping that IEC would authorize the opening of a new station within the center (which I didn’t see happen in my area) or travel to a different polling station and vote. Of course for some (especially the elderly), the latter was not an option, and in some cases even those who travelled to the station at the next village found that one to also have used up all its ballots. I should note that I did not see this lead to a single act of violence, but the people were clearly excited and badly wanted their voice to be heard (in one case, loading forty men into a Kamaz truck and driving it to the next polling station).

In fairness to the IEC, some of these voters were almost certainly victims of fraud, as the fraudsters casting multiple ballots with different identities did so at the expense of their fellow voters.

Still, overall it appears to have been a success and hopefully IEC learns the lesson for future elections in a process that continuously refines and improves their ability to deliver fair and honest elections to the people of Afghanistan.

M Shannon September 22, 2010 at 7:46 am

What would have been an unsuccessful election? If the same turnout, level of fraud and intimidation is replicated in the next presidential election are we to be happy?

No Afghan I asked voted. Most laughed and then slagged the candidates for greed and incompetence. Wait a second…they are mastering our democratic system. All’s well.

Frank September 22, 2010 at 9:00 am

Just to put it in perspective, if the turnout for the Afghan election was indeed between 30%-40% (the estimates I have most commonly heard), that is comparable to or higher than turnout at an average US mid-term election (this year may be a bit higher due to all of the Tea Party business). With that said, I don’t understand why Americans (starting with the New York Times) seem to be holding Afghanistan to a higher standard, as far as turnout is concerned at least, than we hold ourselves.

Nick September 22, 2010 at 10:54 am

Frank – good attempt at moral equivocation, but no cigar. We can blame apathy for poor turnout at US (and, in my case, UK) elections, but, unlike Afghanistan, we don’t have the added fear of – I dunno – murder, beatings, local warlords/druglords, Taliban, ‘insurgents’ etc etc. Taking these factors into account does not mean we are holding Afghanistan to a higher standard: just a realistic recognition that attempting to hold a vaguely democratic general election against a backdrop of perpetual civil conflict (among other things) is somewhat problematic. And that’s putting it mildly.

Frank September 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm

That’s certainly a very fair point all around. Of course I understand that the factors that limit turnout are very different between the US and Afghanistan. When I go vote in November, I know I don’t have to worry about being shot at, kidnapped, or blown up. I wasn’t trying to legitimize the election itself, but rather give credit to those Afghans who turned out despite all of the threats of violence and corruption. For the record, I don’t think the election was a success and, as for Reko’s point below, I also don’t think it legitimizes the Afghan government because it was so poorly organized and run. I just think it’s impressive that that many Afghans still came out to vote in a very questionable election despite the great risks involved.

Boris Sizemore September 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm

In an Afghan Election….the first couple of days are way too early to make any meaningful decision…Already the EEC has 5500 complaints. Let take a swag and say they will overturn about 10-20% of the elections and do some recount. This is about what happened last year, so it is no real great improvement.

But they went through another iteration of elections and that is what the International Community wanted, and there was less violence.

Better elections No, Worse Elections No, the same elections …Yes….Not much to say on this until we see who the “declared winners.” are…..and the composition of the next WJ.

The bad feelings will start again in earnest after the EEC gives its ruling to the IEC and then to see what ever actions are taken. The stakes are very high in some areas, as the Candidates spent big bucks on either the fake ballots or buying votes…old Chicago style…in this election. Some will not go away quietly. To early to define exactly what type of mess it was, but be assured it was a mess, but so far a less violent mess…..that is all.

Reko September 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Well, considering that there were at least one million fraudulent votes in last year’s presidential election I think real participation couldn’t be more than 30%, possibly much less.
In Afghan electoral system this means that maybe 10% or less of people will get representative in parliament.
Many of those 20% or less who voted for some losing candidate will think their candidate lost because of fraud. Many of these will be right.

So most didn’t care or believe in system. Many (most) of those who voted will be disappointed. Does anyone believe these elections are somehow legitimising Afghan government?

Toryalay Shirzay September 22, 2010 at 8:51 pm

This is the crux of the election problem in Afghanistan: an honest precedence wasn’t established in 2009 presidential election and so most people lost confidence in the fairness of these elections. This is why these elections have increasingly become meaningless ,thus not contributing to solving Afghanistan’s problems.Afghans needed to have been taught the importance of conducting credible elections first,then proceeded with the elections .What we have today is like giving a car to someone who has never driven,guess what the results will be??!!

M Shannon September 23, 2010 at 6:58 am

Clearly 30-40% turnout didn’t happen. A better lie would have been 33.5%.

A reasonable estimate of the turnout in the south and east would be 5% but we’ll never know how many people actually voted only once versus the number of ballots that got counted.

stephann September 24, 2010 at 3:52 pm

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