Nearly two months after Afghans cast their votes in the parliamentary election, the country’s Independent Election Commission released the final results for all but one area of the country.
While concerns remain about corruption and fraud, one of the biggest flash points ahead may prove to be the disproportionately large number of Hazara representatives elected – especially compared to Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.
“It is indeed the deprivation of a very large group in the country, pushing them further towards isolation,” says Haji Mohammed Hazraq, a member of the provincial council in Wardak. “One of the biggest reasons for insecurity is that the Pashtuns don’t see their representatives in the government, despite being the largest group in the country.”
The swell in Hazara representation comes in large part from insecurity in Pashtun regions that kept potential voters from the polls on election day. Throughout the country, most of the fighting takes place in Pashtun areas and the Taliban is almost exclusively Pashtun movement. As a result, they were more likely to experience threats and danger on election day and military forces had greater difficulty securing their areas.
“The security forces created a vacuum, nobody was there, and the Taliban threatened them,” says Israr Khan, the president of the Awakened Youth Association, a political awareness group focused on creating peace.
Hazaras' disproportionate strength
Early analyses of the final results show that the Hazara community may have snagged a share of the lower house that represents as much as double their actual proportion of the population.
In Ghazni, the last remaining constituency to be counted, preliminary results indicated that all 11 seats went to Hazara candidates, even though the province has a slim majority of Pashtuns with significant Hazara and Tajik minorities. Officials estimate it will be another week before they have official results due to the closure of numerous other polling stations, as well as other election-day irregularities, such as one district that only counted three votes.
Wardak province also saw a surge in Hazara representation. Though the region is predominately home to Pashtuns, three of the five seats went to Hazaras.
All this is a serious concern for many of the country’s Pashtuns, who allege that they are now underrepresented, especially in Wardak and Ghazni.
The Hazaras’ victory, however, is unlikely to spark ethnic strife. Instead, it may cast further doubt on the fairness and representativeness of the elections. Ethnically imbalanced results suggest to some Afghans a process that was either not truly democratic or, at worst, rigged.
Allegations of fraud still loom heavy over the election, with doubts remaining about whether today's announced results will be accepted.
Hours before the IEC publicized the results, a number of candidates launched a demonstration protesting what they say was a corrupt and fraudulent election.
Such demonstrations have been commonplace since the elections took place on Sept. 18 and nearly one-quarter of all 5.6 million votes were thrown out due to fraud.
Was the Hazara vote fair?
The enthusiastic participation of Hazaras versus the lackluster turnout among other ethnic groups – particularly Pashtuns – has created competing narratives since voting day.
Hazaras have faced historical oppression in Afghanistan. Their suffering under the Taliban regime and their newfound rights under the current Constitution has made the community an ardent supporter of the democratic process. Hazaras turned out to vote in force.
However, Hazara leaders suspect that other ethnic groups – fearful of the Hazara strength at the ballot box – have worked through the government to suppress as much of the Hazara vote as possible.
In Hazara areas of Kabul, as well as the Ghazni districts of Jaghori, Malistan, and Nawur, ballots ran out early, with some Hazara leaders claiming the government purposely short-changed polling centers there. In one mixed Hazara-Pashtun district of Ghazni, Qarabagh, no polling centers opened at all due to a lack of voting materials.
Leaders from other ethnic groups, however, see no evidence of systematic suppression of Hazara votes.
A current Pashtun parliamentarian from Ghazni, Daoud Sultanzoy, scoffs at the notion of Hazara disenfranchisement, pointing out that Hazaras looked poised to sweep all the seats, including his own. But he acknowledged that their enthusiastic participation paid dividends not enjoyed by other groups.
“I don’t want to blame Hazaras, whether they cheated or not. They participated in the process, whether they milked the process for everything they could – good for them,” he says. “The Pashtuns and Tajiks did not fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, did not participate in some parts of the province.”
An inexperienced parliament
While there will no doubt be tensions as the government resolves final voting tallies in Ghazni, few believe that it will create any violence.
“I don’t think this will lead to an ethnic confrontation. Because the election turnout was so low and there was massive fraud, I think for most people it doesn’t really matter what the results showed,” says Masood Farivar, manager of Salam Watandar, a national radio network.
Generally speaking, Afghanistan’s new 249-member lower house of parliament will be a largely inexperienced organization. Only about 90 seats went to incumbents, meaning there will be at least 148 new members. The upper house was not elected in this cycle.