Afghanistan election investigators face threats, bribes
Corruption pressures test the integrity of rag-tag provincial committees as they sift through Afghanistan election complaints.
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The group can't just confront a person accused of interfering with a vote. So members of the provincial election committee interview witnesses provided in the complaint report, and Mr. Mukhless then sets off to take pictures and interview other locals. If the accusation checks out, “we call the witnesses and then the guy at the end confesses.”Skip to next paragraph
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The head of the PECC, an elderly man with a distinguished white beard, gets philosophical when asked about whether the group can be swayed by fear.
“First of all, we fear God. Second, we fear the law. And then we are not afraid of criminals,” says Sayed Mohsen Wadan. He points out that they disqualified three candidates who had already spent a lot of money on their campaigns and had powerful backers. “We are not scared, we are not afraid of these things.”
But international monitors express concern about how much pressure PECCs will be able to withstand, especially in less secure provinces. One concern this time is that the election commission will quarantine suspicious ballot boxes, and the candidates who lose votes as a result will lobby the PECCs hard to get their “legitimate” votes restored.
Who makes up the investigation committee?
The PECC staffers are temporary workers, hired just for elections. When the Kapisa group was asked about their previous jobs, one deflected the question with a smile saying, “There’s an expression, when you ask a jobless guy who he works for he will say I work with my uncle.”
Last year, decisions were made at headquarters in Kabul, away from the insecurity of the provinces, and a majority of the commissioners there were international members who could leave the country afterward.
This year, the PECCs render first judgment, but any of their decisions can be appealed to the headquarters in Kabul. And if a complaint is too dangerous to touch, the PECCs can forward it directly to Kabul.
The latter option is “by way of exception though,” says Johann Kriegler, one of the two international commissioners of the ECC. “I am quite a stickler for the two-tiered system.”
The reason: Having the 34 provinces handle complaints first distributes the work load and weeds out the more frivolous complaints early.
“If we are swamped, like quite frankly they were last year, the best people in the world can’t cope with that,” says Mr. Kriegler. The reliance on the PECCs “has disadvantages … you cannot ensure universal standards if you have got 34 bodies out there.”
The other worry from monitors about the current setup is that the PECCs have, so far, proved to be black boxes for information. This reporter called half a dozen PECCs before reaching one that would allow a press visit. And their decisions are only shared after the fact with the accused, the accuser, and the ECC in Kabul.
Where are the results?
The ECC has not been quick to release information about decisions, and its website still offers no English translation of the decisions made during the pre-election period.
The Kapisa PECC offered some rare data. Before voting day, the group received 15 complaints. Three resulted in disqualifying candidates, three resulted in fines (for things like illegal use of election posters), and nine were dismissed.
Since election day, the PECC received five complaints forms turned in at polling stations, and an additional 29 complaints directly from people. Six of those 29 complaints were judged to be “class A,” meaning they could impact the election results. These included intimidation by police and persuasion by poll workers.