"An ECC determination that leads to a run-off vote, would help rescue legitimacy out of what was a fraudulent election."
-- Ashraf Ghani, Presidential Candidate
With reports of massive electoral fraud coming in from different parts of Afghanistan, the view I'm increasingly coming to is that the election we international observers saw in Kabul and other safe parts of the country was a very different one from that in Kandahar, Helmand and other insecure parts of the country. Reports are coming in of fraud by IEC (the Independent Election Commission, whose head was appointed by Karzai) workers, by provincial level and by local level government officials. And then there was voter intimidation to stay away from the polls.
In Kandahar province, observer and local feedback is pointing to a turnout of 5% at most. What will the ECC and the international community do if the official results show a turnout of say 40%? And this in a province where we already know that there was significant over-registration of voters before the elections. So the extent of fraud is a real issue.
The other pressing issue is what will be done about the fraud. The ECC (Electoral Complaints Commission) is staffed by internationals and Afghans. After preliminary election results are announced on the 25th of August, they have 2-3 weeks to address all official complaints of fraud that are filed with them. The problem is that the ECC has little capacity beyond Kabul to actually investigate these fraud allegations. And even if they had the capacity, it would take a lot longer than 2-3 weeks to investigate these charges. So then what does one do?
Just double-checked ECC's mandate. If they find evidence of a candidate being involved in electoral fraud, they have the mandate to bar that candidate from political office. Unlikely to happen.
The real question to be asked is what should be done now? Afghans are unlikely to see any first-round victory as legitimate. And the international community has already lost a lot of credibility by putting up with corruption and fraud. An Afghan said to a colleague here that on the day when the decision was made to allow President Karzai to stay on beyond his constitutional mandate, "the soul went out of Afghanistan."
There will likely have to be a political solution to the election result. Hopefully the outcome will help bring greater legitimacy to the whole election process...