In Afghanistan election, a key test for fighting corruption
How election officials handle reports of fraud following Saturday's parliamentary Afghanistan election will go a long way in determining Afghans' respect for government and the rule of law.
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Corruption and insecurity across the country empower government officials, armed strongmen, and candidates to bully and bribe election workers. And the commission assigned to handle any complaints has been weakened since last year’s fraud-marred presidential election.
The danger that this election could be dominated by reports of fraud looms large over the international coalition’s efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and to convince the population to resolve their divisions through democratic means. But whether dirty tricks weaken respect for the government and the rule of law in the long run will depend partly on how credibly reports of fraud are handled.
“I think the vote itself is not going to be very clean,” says Martine van Bijlert, codirector of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. “It’s going to be very hard, but if you can deal with this mess in a way that will convince Afghan voters that fairness was restored that would be very important.”
In previous elections, election officials and some in the international community attempted to gloss over the problems – with bad results.
“What you lose every time is, you lose [not just] the credibility of the vote but also those who are elected by the vote, those who count the vote, those who back it,” says Ms. Van Bijlert.
Indeed, there are already signs among ordinary Afghans that they are losing faith in the process.
“It’s going to be a waste of time,” says Zabiullah Sakhizada, a driver in Kabul who says he isn’t voting this time. “The last election between Abdullah Abdullah and President Karzai made me think I am done with it…. It was proved that Karzai did fraud, but still he won.”
Some improvements have been made to the election system this time around.
Last time, much of the manipulation was found to have been committed at all levels of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), the body running the elections. In response, the IEC chief was replaced with someone who has won respect among international experts.
Some 6,000 election workers were not rehired. And in an effort to break up any corrupt deals struck with the new batch, the IEC shuffled its top on-the-ground officials to new regions just weeks before the polling.
The measure isn’t foolproof: They could also be bribed and intimidated in their new postings. But at least many are now working outside their home regions, with little time to get snarled in local politics.