AREU Synthesis Paper Series
There is a distinction to be made between respondents’ general views of elections—which are seen in theory to be a positive process, and not a foreign imposition—and their actual experiences of elections, which have been marred with fraud, ambiguity, and the suspicion of foreign interference.
election was fraudulent. The fraud was even broadcast in the media.
Female teacher, urban Nimroz
During the PC election [one candidate] printed fake election cards in Iran, and it was said among people in our district that Tolo TV broadcasted this and showed these fake cards on television, but the election commission didn’t do anything and he was introduced as the representative for the Meshrano Jirga anyway.
Male teacher, rural Nimroz
Incidents of fraudulent activity such as these were described by all respondents across the six provinces, although more vehemently in the second phase (in Nangarhar, Ghazni and Nimroz) than in the first due to the timing of data collection (interviews for the first phase being conducted before the 2009 presidential election, four years after the last set of polls). In Nangarhar, the stories told concerning fraud in the elections were as vivid as in Nimroz but with a different focus, centring on the widely publicised delay in announcing the official PC results. The following statement is representative of a considerable number of respondents from both urban and rural areas:
Last year’s PC election has discouraged people from voting. The Prophet Mohammad said that three things are always unknown: 1) death, 2) doomsday and 3) the soul. Nowadays, however, people say that four things are always unknown: the above three, and the results of the PC elections...The only reason that the results
were delayed was that in the first counting, the favourite candidates of foreigners were not successful. The foreigners then tried to change the results and eventually they succeeded in getting all of their candidates accepted. Then, later, the results were declared.
Male unemployed former driver,
The respondent is referring here to how initial vote counts were released at the polling stations in the days immediately following the PC elections in 2009. These were then conveyed to Kabul, and after a delay of many weeks—longer in Nangarhar than elsewhere—the official results, which were different to those originally posted, were announced.62 This incident has had a considerable effect on how people view elections in Nangarhar. The perception that the outcome is determined by foreigners is widespread and extremely damaging: in the view of the above respondent, it has discouraged people from voting.
The perception that the outcome of elections is in the hands of foreigners or high-level officials is not new to Afghanistan, and is reported to have been widespread in Kabul during municipality elections in the 1960s.63 This is largely due to a significant mistrust in both the system and, in more recent years, in the intentions of foreign forces or development actors in the country. While the perception is speculation, it has been bolstered by President Karzai’s similar and very public assertions about the fraudulent behaviour of international actors, and its potential effect on participation in future elections in Afghanistan cannot be underestimated.
There is thus a distinction to be made between respondents’ general views of elections—which are seen in theory to be a positive process, and not a foreign imposition—and their actual experiences of elections, which have been
62 This was also the case in counting processes during the 2005 Wolesi Jirga election, and again across all provinces (with Ghazni the most delayed) in 2010.
63 Louis Dupree, “Afghanistan’s Slow March to Democracy: Reflections on Kabul’s Municipal Balloting,” American Universities Field Staff Reports, South Asia Series 7, no. 1 (1963).