Thematic Dossier (XXI): The aftermath of the 2018 Afghan parliamentary elections
A women polling station in Paktika on parliamentary election day in Afghanistan, 20 October 2018. Photo: Fazal Muzhary/AAN.
Two months after Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections on 20 October 2018, a final result is still not in view. Afghanistan’s electoral institutions remain deep in their drawn out counting phase. A number of delays have made the original plan to announce a final result yesterday, on 20 December 2018, obsolete. To maintain an overview over post-elections events, AAN is starting this new, election-related dossier. This builds on and continues our “Thematic Dossier (XX): Electoral reform and the preparations for the 2018 elections“ that ended one day before the elections were held.
Afghanistan’sIndependent Election Commission (IEC) had originally scheduled the adjudicated final results of parliamentary elections for today, 20 December 2018. However, no results will be announced today. (1)
The IEC had already allocated a generous two months for the post-election process, ie to count the votes, adjudicate and, finally, announce the results. This has been thrown further behind schedule due to a series of small hick-ups and major controversies. When the final results – and even the complete preliminary results from the 34 provinces (originally scheduled for 10 November and now delayed by over five weeks) – will come out is anyone’s guess. A new end date has not been announced.
Here is the original timeline; delays and changes from the original plan experienced so far are shown in italics:
- 20 October 2018: election day
- 21 October: second election day added after countrywide organisational problems
- 27 October: third election day, elections in Kandahar province, delayed because of a high-ranking assassination (AAN reporting here)
- 3 November: IEC announcement that results from ten provinces only would come out on 23 November only (Kabul results on 1 December), not on 10 November
- 10 November: planned announcement of all provinces’ preliminary results (before complaints period and adjudication); announcement that all Kabul election staff would be replaced and Kabul votes will be recounted
- 23 November: no results announced
- 24 November: preliminary results for five (not ten) provinces announced
- 6 December: Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) nullifies all Kabul results
- 12-16 December: Kabul recounting
- 20 December: planned announcement of final result
- pending: date of announcement of the final results, both preliminary and final
- 20 April 2019: presidential election; announced date for postponed parliamentary election in Ghazni province
- 21 September 2019: simultaneous Provincial Council and District Council elections
Election Day chaos
It was already clear that delays would ensue when organisational chaos broke out on the first election day (see an AAN first-hand account of the chaos here) (2). Scores of polling centres did not open, election material was not complete and the controversial biometric voter verification (BVV) devices introduced in the last moment only (AAN background here) were inconsistently used. The IEC extended voting by one day in many areas, including in Kabul province. This was to allow the opportunity to voters to the thousands who had waited in vain for hours in front of polling sites that remained closed or opened late.
This situation was exacerbated by widespread violence by the Taleban who tried to prevent voting in many areas. This made these elections the most violent since 2001, as the UN found out later. The Afghan media had been asked by the authorities to keep quiet over security incidents for most of the day so as to not scare away prospective voters (AAN report here).
The first delay of two weeks was already announced by the IEC on 3 November. In some districts, its spokesman said, counting had not been finishedand there were problems with the transfer of ballot boxes from the provinces. Therefore preliminary provincial results would be announced on 23 November – and for ten provinces only. The results for Kabul were given an extra week, until 1 December. It was further announced that the final result would be announced one month after the preliminary results were completed, but this date remained unclear as no final date for all preliminary results was set.
On the same day, a government helicopter crashed in Farah province, reportedly destroying election materials and 60 biometric devices. These should have contained the votes from the same number of polling stations (there were at least two polling stations per polling centre, one for women, one for men) that, theoretically, would have represented a few thousand votes. The IEC press conference that announced this crash did not mention the loss of a number of ballot boxes, nor that the head of Farah’s provincial council had been on board and been killed. This only was reported later.
The first preliminary results came out on 24 November, a day later than announced, and covering only five, not ten provinces, Daykundi, Farah, Jawzjan, Uruzgan and Bamyan (media report here; we will discuss the detailed results separately). These results included three provinces that have an extensive Taleban presence (Farah, Jawzjan, Uruzgan) and should have particularly intensely been scrutinised for possible fraud. Polling sites in government-controlled enclaves in Taleban-controlled areas have the weakest, if any independent monitoring. This allows local power holders and their supporters or clients, even in the security forces, to influence – for a 2009 example, read this AAN report). So far, the IEC has not declared any corrections of these counts, whether these be of possible invalidation of votes, or even the results of whole polling stations.
The results of the remaining provinces would come out in batches of ten or five, the IEC said. By 17 December more results have trickled in from 29 of the 34 provinces.
A new IEC-ECC controversy, more delays, resignations
On 6 December, a new crisis broke out when the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) in a shock decision declared all results for Kabul province void. It gave mismanagement, violations of the electoral law, dereliction of duty by the IEC and a lack of transparency as the main reasons for its decision. It called for the dismissal of five current and former IEC officials named (head and deputy of IEC secretariat, Ahmad Shah Zamanzai, and Abdul Aziz Samim, respectively, and the head of IT, Sayyed Ibrahim Sadat, head of field operations, Zmarai Qalamyar, and former head of Kabul IEC, Awal ul-Rahman Rudwal) for “mismanagement, violation of laws, regulations and procedures of the electoral commissions and failure to exercise legal authorities and obligations on timely basis which led to widespread electoral violations and crimes.” (see the 24 reasons listed by the ECC for its decision here, in Dari). One ECC member, Humaira Haqmal, also pointed out there were “other provinces where problems exist, not less than Kabul, and we will decide on those, once assessments are wrapped up.”
The IEC immediately condemned the ECC’s step as “hasty, unrealistic and political[ly motivated]” and as “disregard and disrespect of the efforts and the sacrifices on the day of elections.” Naim Asghari, member of the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA), an independent observer organisation, said, “This is a hard decision, but the law has given this authority to the electoral complaints commission.” However, the legality of the decision does not necessarily mean that there was no political pressure or influencing behind the ECC decision. None of Afghanistan’s electoral institutions can be considered fully independent. Also, there are political interest groups that still want the presidential election to be delayed, or whose candidates did not fare well in the elections.
The ECC decision would have made around one fourth of all votes cast on 20-21 October (according to questionable IEC figures) invalid. It would have produced, most likely, a turnout (so far officially given by the IEC of around four million – no exact figure available) so low that it would not have produced a legitimate parliament (and given the amount of voters concerned, the legal provision in such a case to hold new elections within seven days was highly unrealistic in the first place).
Also, this ECC decision should not have come by surprise at all, after a series of personnel suspensions, dismissals and resignations of leading Kabul election staff. This started on 10 November, when IEC chairman Gula Jan Abdul Badi Sayyad announced in a press conference that all election staff working in the commission’s Kabul provincial office for the Wolesi Jirga elections would be replaced and Kabul votes will be recounted. He said that this was based on an IEC decision, but did not give any reasons for it.
On 20 November,the acting head of IEC office for Kabul, Zahir Akbari, resigned from his post in protest against “widespread fraud and corruption allegations”. He said the elections in Kabul had been designed and conducted by a corrupt circle led by the head of the IEC secretariat Zamanzai. Akbari had just been called in to take over from Awal ul-Rahman Rudwal.On 2 December, the IEC suspended its acting head of field operations for Kabul province, Obaidullah Niazi, for alleged bribe taking. Also, Niazi had only taken over this job very recently after the replacement of entire provincial IEC office for Kabul.
After some background dealings, the ECC gave in again – similar to when it had insisted on 27 October that, countrywide, the only votes to be counted would be those validated by the BVV devices (in accordance with an earlier IEC decision that then was revoked (see AAN’s report here). The Kabul recounting took place from 12 to 16 December in the presence of ECC representatives and international observers (media reports here and here).
Implications for the presidential elections
The recurrent spats between the two electoral commissions indicate that Afghanistan’s electoral institutions are prone to mutual blockades that lead to delays in electoral proceedings. With no date for the final result of the parliamentary elections in sight, a negative overspill is possible for the presidential election scheduled for 20 April 2019; with preparations for the candidates’ nomination period, which should start on 22 December 2018.
The IEC-ECC controversies have repeatedly made outside involvement in the dealings between the two nominally independent institutions necessary. This has further undermined public trust in them. Also, a replay of these controversies is possible during the presidential election or during its counting process.
Furthermore, the IEC’s lack of transparency continues to be a problem. For example, there were no partial results announced on the IEC website during tallying, as required by article 8 of the IEC’s regulations, and in contrast to the practice followed during earlier elections. (3) A final result for Afghanistan’s October 2018 parliamentary polls will now be known only well into 2019.
The inter-institutional controversies, the lack of transparency on crucial data and decision-making, and the general organisational shortcomings of the 2018 elections point, at best, to the immaturity of Afghanistan’s electoral institutions and to structural dysfunctionality.
Meanwhile, the IEC has ended the discussion on whether the presidential election should be held as scheduled on 20 April 2019 (31 Hamal 1398). It has not postponed in the context of new attempts to get peace talks with the Taleban going, at least as far as President Ashraf Ghani is concerned. Some had argued that the elections could create a fait accompli,if the new president was still elected in line with the current political system and legal framework (which the Taleban would like to ‘reform’), while President Ghani had made it clear he wants them taking place in order to bolster his government’s legitimacy for exactly those negotiations (see his speech at the Geneva conference here and more AAN background here).
Edited by Sari Kouvo
(1) Originally,the IEC had given itself 21 days to count the votes and announce full preliminary results on 10 November. This would have been followed by two days during which voters and candidates would have had the chance to appeal against details of the results or the process leading to them.
There has been no announcement whether, after all the delays, the two days’ appeal period would set in after each partial result was announced, or after the completion of all provincial results. However, it is known that the ECC has been holding appeal sessions since 21 November. For example, ECC chairman Abdul Aziz Ariayi said that electoral cases were addressed at the provincial and central level during the first session, and if anyone was not happy with the decision of the provincial complaints commissions, they could appeal to the ECC headquarters (here). The ninth session was held on 16 December (see here).
This would have been followed over more than three weeks (from 20 November to 5 December) by the ECC dealing with the appeals and, then, two more seven day periods during which, firstly, the ECC would send its decision to the IEC (5-12 December) and, secondly, the IEC would, apparently (this is not specified in the electoral calendar _ see in the calendar in the annex to this AAN analysis) look at these decisions and, if there were disagreement, this would be adjudicated between the two commissions between 13 and 19 December, with the final result coming out on the next day.
(2) Actually, there were three more election days – 20 October; 21 October as unscheduled extension day (media report here); and 27 October, when the delayed vote in Kandahar province took place – while there will be a fourth one in the future, as the Ghazni polls are still pending. This is to happen on 20 April 2019, simultaneously with the presidential election scheduled for 20 April 2019.
(3) In terms of procedure, the electoral law in its article 4, which defines the terminologies, specifies four types of results:
Initial Results: are the figures that are announced after the counting at the counting center.
Partial Results: are the figures that are announced by the Commission during the tallying of the results.
Preliminary Results: are the figures that are announced and published by the Commission after completion of the tallying and prior to adjudication of the complaints.
Final Results: are the figures announced, published and implemented by the Commission, after the completion of adjudications by the Complaints Commission.
Here the list of our post-elections dispatches so far. This list will be updated regularly.
1. Aftershocks of a Procedural Ambiguity: The IEC and ECC dispute over which votes to validate
Author: Ali Yawar Adili
Date: 2 November 2018
When the Independent Election Commission (IEC), at the last minute, introduced the use of biometric machines in the Wolesi Jirga election, it approved a procedure stipulating that the votes cast without the new system would be invalid. But it never decidedly clarified what it would do with the polling stations that failed to use them. Then, on election day, the IEC allowed voting in those stations. It has since found itself struggling to decide what to do with the votes that were cast without biometrics. In response, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) stepped in to try to force the IEC to implement its pre-election day procedures. The controversy has, for now, resulted in a compromise that clarifies the criteria for the validation and invalidation of votes, but is unlikely to pre-empt the problems that will continue to flow from the chaotic implementation of the new system. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili reports the details.
1. The 2018 Election Observed (1) in Zurmat, Paktia: Real voting only in the district centre
Author: Pakteen Khan and Thomas Ruttig
Date: 29 October 2018
Zurmat district in Paktia province is almost completely under Taleban control. The parliamentary elections were held there only on a tiny island of government control. Turnout was very low on the first election day and limited to the district centre – another example of Afghanistan’s emerging rural-urban voting divide. On day two, attempts of ballot stuffing were observed, when the election commission had allowed to open polling centres that were closed or opened very late on the first election day. Guest author Pakteen Khan*, who spent both election days (20 and 21 October 2018) in Zurmat, tells us what he saw (with input from Thomas Ruttig).
2. The 2018 Election Observed (2) in Kandahar: Facing the same problems as the rest of the country
Author: Ali Mohammad Sabawoon
Date: 3 November 2018
The people of Kandahar cast their vote on 27 October 2018, a week later than the rest of the country. Although no figures have been released, turnout appears to have been good in Kandahar city and Spin Boldak, as was expected, and patchy to nonexistent in most other districts. The IEC had stressed that the bad experience of the first two days of the election would not be repeated in Kandahar. Still, the vote was marred by late starts and technical problems, which the IEC is trying to underplay. AAN’s Ali Mohammad Sabawoon takes a closer look (with input from Martine van Bijlert).
3. The 2018 Election Observed (3) in Kunduz: A Very Violent E-Day
Author: Obaid Ali
Date: 7 November 2018
Kunduz province faced serious security issues during and after Election Day. The turnout was far lower than expected. This was mainly due to an almost unprecedented level of Taleban violence compared to most other provinces on that day. Three districts were deprived of their rights to vote in their entirety, while six others had a patchy election as, due to the insecurity, some polling centres (PC) frequently kept opening and closing. AAN’s Obaid Ali, who observed the election in neighbouring Takhar, looks at the electoral challenges in this key province of Afghanistan’s northeast (with input from Thomas Ruttig).
4. The 2018 Election Observed (4) in Paktika: Pre-election fraud and relatively peaceful polling
Author: Fazal Muzhary
Date: 13 November 2018
Where Paktika has been famous for ballot stuffing and mass proxy voting in previous elections, locals claim that this election was very different. A softer Taleban stance and a new slate of candidates, they say, allowed for more extensive campaigning. And the new electoral measures prevented rigging which, as a result, the electorate – including women – came out to vote. Reports of irregularities were indeed limited, with the exception of a large pre-election scam that involved thousands of duplicated tazkeras and led to several arrests. Turnout, as in most provinces, was varied and, in total, was given as around 20 per cent of registered voters. AAN’s Fazal Muzhary observed the election in this southeastern province and explains how it went before, during and after election day.
5. The 2018 Election Observed (5) in Nuristan: Disfranchisement and lack of data
Author: Obaid Ali, Thomas Ruttig and Jelena Bjelica
Date: 17 November 2018
Organising elections in Nuristan, one of the most remote, under-served and unknown provinces, presents a severe challenge. Most villages are far from their nearest district centre and all of the districts are under some degree of Taleban control or influence. In two districts – Mandol and Du-Ab – people were fully deprived of their right to vote. Elections were held in the six others, but even then only in parts of the districts. Contradictions on the number of polling centres reported as having been opened on election day have also raised suspicions that some vote rigging may have taken place. AAN’s Obaid Ali, Jelena Bjelica and Thomas Ruttig scrutinise the context in Nuristan which makes holding free, fair and inclusive elections so very difficult and report on what was a troubling election day where few Nuristanis were able to exercise their franchise.
6. The 2018 Election Observed (6) in Herat: Insecurity, organisational shambles, alleged rigging
Author: S Reza Kazemi
Date: 20 December 2018
Many have praised the parliamentary elections in Herat province in the far west of Afghanistan as second only to the capital Kabul in terms of turnout. There was indeed considerable enthusiasm and determination to vote from those who could get to the polls, but they were a restricted number, mainly those living in the provincial and district centres. In areas controlled or threatened by the Taleban, the vote either did not happen or was troubled. Elsewhere, numerous administrative and technical shortcomings and serious complaints of rigging hindered Heratis from exercising their franchise. AAN researcher Said Reza Kazemi, who observed the poll, reports that the description by provincial authorities that Herat’s election was ‘good’ suggests they must have very low standards.
7. The 2018 Election Observed (7) in Daikundi: The outstanding role of women
Author: Ehsan Qaane
Date: 27 January 2019
Like other provinces, the 2018 parliamentary election in Daikundi faced some technical, logistical and security challenges, but compared to other places these problems were limited. As a result, both the process and the outcome of the election have been largely uncontested. Women participation, both during voter registration and polling, was high: more women registered and voted in the province than men. Women also won half of the province’s parliamentary seats: two out of four. Political parties didn’t fare as well. Whereas in the last parliamentary elections all four seats were taken by political party candidates, in this election there were just two. AAN’s Ehsan Qaane, who was in Daikundi on election day, looks into the background of the province’s vote and tells us how the 2018 parliamentary election went.
1. Election Day One: A rural-urban divide emerging
Author: Thomas Ruttig and AAN Team
Date: 20 October 2018
Afghanistan’s third post-Taleban parliamentary elections have started slowly, with a lot of technical chaos and significant fighting in a number of provinces. Polling hours have now been extended. Even in many areas of Kabul, polling centres had not opened by 9:30am. There are widespread reports of a lack of polling material, electoral staff being unfamiliar with the biometric devices, that are being used for the first time to try to prevent multiple voting, and reports of explosions, attacks and Taleban closing roads and keeping away voters. By noon, dozens of casualties from rocket and mortar fire and explosions had been reported in Kunduz and later in Kabul. Apart from in Daykundi, where the governor held a small ceremony in the capital, Nili, voting began without ceremony. Thomas Ruttig and the rest of the AAN team have put together this initial look at ‘E-Day’ 2018. With reporting from Ali Mohammad Sabawoon (Kandahar), Obaid Ali (Taloqan), Rohullah Sorush (Mazar-e Sharif), Ehsan Qaane (Nili/Daikundi), Said Reza Kazemi (Herat), Fazal Muzhary (Sharana/Paktika) and Ali Yawar Adili and Jelena Bjelica (Kabul).
2. Election Day One (Evening Update): Voter determination and technical shambles
Author: Kate Clark, Thomas Ruttig and AAN Team
Date: 21 October 2018
In our first update of the day, AAN reported on the mixed turnout – far higher in the cities and other secure places and lower in districts where the Taleban could close roads and prevent voting. Those determined to vote faced not only Taleban violence, but also many technical problems and late-opening polling centres. In response, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) ordered an extension of voting hours today for some centres and for some to be opened tomorrow. In others, the count has already begun. The Election Complaints Commission has been damning of the IEC’s management of the poll, saying it could call into question the “transparency and fairness of the elections.” Kate Clark, Thomas Ruttig and the rest of the AAN team, bring you this update of what has turned out to be the first day of Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections.
3. Election Day Two: A triumph of administrative chaos
Author: Jelena Bjelica and AAN Team
Date: 21 October 2018
The second day of the Afghan parliamentary election has been as chaotic as the first. Because many polling centres failed to open or opened late on Saturday, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) ruled that some could also open today. However, only some actually opened today and voters were presented with the same bureaucratic and technical difficulties as yesterday. It is difficult, overall, to feel confident about the statistics the IEC has given, and it has already come under scathing criticism from the Election Complaints Commission about its management of the election. Yet none of this, reports Jelena Bjelica and the rest of the AAN team, appears to have had any bearing on the self-congratulatory rhetoric of the election organisers and the country’s political leadership.
4. Election Day Two: A first hand account of the trials and chaos of second-day voting
Author: Ali Yawar Adili
Date: 23 October 2018
The parliamentary election that was finally held after a three and half year delay, was meant to end the extra-constitutionality of the legislature and boost the legitimacy of the state. New anti-fraud measures were put in place to ensure transparent elections, but they were poorly prepared and implemented. Now, after two days of voting, the IEC has to deal with at least three incongruous types of results, without having clearly determined which votes will be counted and which will be invalidated. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili voted on the second day of the elections, in one of the centres that earlier did not open, and reports first-hand on the trials of the new systems and the chaos at his polling centre. He concludes that the IEC will have to now grapple with hard decisions on which ballots to count.
5. Before Election Day Three: Looking at Kandahar’s upcoming vote
Author: Martine van Bijlert
Date: 26 October 2018
Tomorrow, on 27 October 2018, Kandahar will vote in the country’s parliamentary election – a week later than the rest of the country. The delay comes after the assassination of, among others, the province’s police chief and strongman Abdul Razeq on 18 October 2018. The IEC has tried to remedy the problems that plagued the rest of the country last week, through additional training. This may not be enough to maintain the integrity of their new anti-fraud measures: voter lists and biometric verification – particularly since Kandahar has a history of mass fraud. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert, with input from Ali Adili and Ali Mohammad Sabawoon, takes a closer look at what we might be able to expect on Afghanistan’s third day of voting.