Nearly a quarter of Afghanistan election votes disqualified

Afghans hoping that the parliamentary elections would be more honest than last year’s corruption-tainted presidential vote were likely sorely disappointed today.

The Afghan election commission announced that it would throw out nearly a quarter of all votes cast in the Sept. 18 parliamentary election, roughly the same percentage of votes invalidated after the 2009 presidential election.

The parliamentary election was the fourth national poll since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Though many observers contend that creating a functional democracy in Afghanistan will take time, the apparent lack of improvement is causing much frustration.

“Most educated people in Afghanistan will try to use this election as a lesson and as an experience to create more reforms,” says Jandad Spinghar, executive director of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan. “Of course, some Afghan people will be disappointed. This electoral commission had experience from the last [2009 presidential] election. They had to do a better job than last time, but unfortunately they did not.”

At stake in the election were 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, known as the Wolsei Jirga. More than 2,500 candidates were competing for the seats and allegations of fraud and corruption were prevalent throughout the process.

The Electoral Complaints Commission has registered more than 4,200 serious complaints about election-day irregularities that officials say they are investigating.

Among the 5.6 million votes cast, 1.3 million were fraudulent, according to Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission. Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesperson for the commission, rejected allegations that his organization tried to hide the number of invalid votes and added that this level of fraud is normal in an election.

“We worked on this process under all international rules, and today we announced the partial results. There were not any serious problems in tallying the votes or announcing the results,” says Mr. Noor.

On a hopeful note for women, Afghan voters exceeded the quota for female members of parliament this year for the first time since 2001. Afghan law requires that the parliament have seats for at least 68 women, but Afghans can elect more than the minimum requirement.

Designated seat
One of the two seats in sparsely populated Nimruz Province, located in the southwest corner of Afghanistan, was reserved for a female candidate. Farida Hamidi, former head of the Women’s Affairs Department in Nimruz, won the designated seat.

But the second seat was taken by a woman as well. Fareshta Amini beat the male candidates. Dr. Amini, a refugee in Iran for 31 years, returned to Afghanistan only six months before the elections. During the last parliamentary elections in 2005, she made an unsuccessful bid, losing by a small margin.

In the upper house of parliament, Nimruz is already represented by three women, so this win makes Nimruz the only province in Afghanistan to be represented entirely by women in both houses of parliament.

“Men are much more likely to become involved in corruption, compared with women. Females are not inclined to become involved in these things, so we voted for women,” says Ahmad Shah Saber, a local journalist in Nimruz. “People in Nimruz are very happy about this win. They are saying that this is the only place that looks like a real democratic province now.”

The final election results should be announced at the end of this month, but could face delays as claims of fraud are investigated.

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