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Afghanistan election investigators face threats, bribes

Corruption pressures test the integrity of rag-tag provincial committees as they sift through Afghanistan election complaints.

By Staff writer / September 22, 2010

Afghan women walk under an election poster of a parliamentarian candidate, in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sept. 22.

Musadeq Sadeq/AP

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Pana Khail, Afghanistan

Seated around a room are an investigator, a legal scholar, and three judges. Their mission: Decide how to handle election complaints in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province, and therefore help determine the outcome of the Afghanistan-wide parliamentary elections that took place over the weekend.

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So far, the group has disqualified three candidates, some backed by powerful people, because the candidates lied about resigning from their government jobs. Now they are digging into investigating fraud attempts during Saturday’s parliamentary elections, including accusations of police interference in the vote and poll workers lobbying for candidates.

A similar board sits in the 33 other Afghan provinces, and it is in these rooms that the battle to clean up the country’s latest election mess will be fought hardest. The secrecy of their deliberations means much rides on their integrity, along with a strong dash of bravery given the dangers of their work.

IN PICTURES: Afghanistan election

“They are going to be under a lot of pressure. They will be more or less on their own for it,” says Martine van Bijlert, codirector of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. These provincial arbiters sit at “a level where you can dismiss complaints that shouldn’t be, or decide whether to receive complaints.”

What's riding on these complaints

Across all provinces, the Electoral Complains Commission (ECC) has now received more than 2,000 complaints since election day, and 1,700 pre-election complaints. This now exceeds the 3,072 complaints during last year’s troubled presidential election. Due to the danger of filing complaints, many more may never be filed.

Danger clearly exists also for the men and women who sit on the provincial ECCs – or PECCs – and whose decisions will make or break some candidates.

In some provinces, security for the PECC members barely extends beyond their compound.

The security factor

Most of Kapisa province, which abuts Kabul to the north, enjoys good security.

However, one of its seven districts, Alasay, saw no voting at all on Saturday. Poll workers showed up but the Taliban laid down a chain some distance away and told people not to cross it to vote, says provincial election commissioner Wakil Noor Mohammad Hanifi.

In another district, Nijrab, a suicide bomber attempted to target a polling center but was stopped by police, according to the province’s acting governor, Mohammad Sharif Akimzada. And in a third district, Tagab, “there was some shooting and violence, but the election took place,” he says.

How to verify a complaint, and handle the pressure

It’s in this partially-secure environment that the young investigator named Mohammad Mukhless ventures out to check up on a complaint.

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