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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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The IEC also improved the security of ballots by bar-coding them and outlawing the sharing of excess ballots at one polling station with a station next door. And the organization announced early which polling centers would be closed due to insecurity – an ambiguity that led to “ghost” stations that never opened but posted results.

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“I’m cautiously optimistic. I think they’ve got a system in place that, if it’s executed as it’s designed, will be a reasonably good election. So the question is how close to the way the system is designed is it executed?” says Glenn Cowan, an election monitor with Democracy International.

But major problems have not been rectified.

The country still has no reliable voter registration roll. That weakens efforts to clamp down on multiple voting.

Reports are circulating that fake registration cards are being printed. But there’s already a glut of real cards. The IEC has distributed voter cards to 17.4 million people, but estimates that there are fewer than 12.6 million eligible voters.

And the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), the body charged with adjudicating complaints and investigating irregularities, came under intense political pressure from Karzai.

The ECC worries experts. Karzai appointed the members, a majority of whom are Afghan.

One of the two international members, Johann Kriegler, tried to dial back expectations about the ECC at a press conference heading into voting day, saying the group is “not Superman.”

The other international member, Safwat Sidqi, says in a Monitor interview that, depending on the volume of complaints, “we should be finished maybe from two weeks to three weeks” from election day. That suggests the group expects to move faster or work less than their predecessors, who spent two months finalizing key rulings after the presidential election.

Transparency has been a problem. On Wednesday, they reported receiving a total of 1,089 complaints but have dealt with only 558 so far. The remainder will be decided before Saturday, they say, but as of Friday night, many decisions remain unannounced.

Asked about the lack of information on decisions, Mr. Sidqi said: “To tell you the truth, it has something to do with the culture. Any government bodies are reluctant to reveal their decisions, though it is obliged by law.” Additionally, he says, sometimes there is a reluctance to risk the lives of those who came forward to complain.

For monitoring groups, the level of action on complaints is worrying.

“We are disappointed, because we saw very little action from the ECC during the campaigns. Few candidates were sanctioned for electoral offenses, and the candidates the commission did sanction were not the most serious offenders,” said Jandad Spinghar, the executive director of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan in a press release.

The ECC’s Sidqi responded that sometimes they lacked concrete evidence against violators, so “we took other measures letting them know that they might be under investigation."