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Claiming victory in a 'flawed' election

Afghanistan's presidential candidates position themselves for potentially challenging the preliminary results.
Last modified: 6 Apr 2014 15:23
A voter filing his complaint at the Independent Electoral Complain Commission [Jawad Jalali]

Kabul, Afghanistan – There’s an awkward duality mastered by all three leading presidential candidates in Afghanistan right now: Either before or after the polls closed in Saturday’s elections and counting began, they all declared victory - or bravado - while complaining of fraud in the elections.

They issued their complaints, concerns and bravado via press conferences, interviews and social media.

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai's official campaign Twitter account also expressed concern in English and Dari.

"There are reports of serious fraud in several locations but all is documented and will be passed on to ECC [Electoral Complaint Commission] for investigation," his campaign tweeted and hour after tweeting that they were sure that the election wouldn't go to a second round.

Both he and Abdullah Abdullah held press conferences on Saturday complaining of issues at polling stations, each indicating at the same time that they had strong showings at the polls.

When contacted for comment on what would happened with those concerns if he won, someone close to Ghani Ahmadzai’s campaign referred me back to what the candidate said in Saturday’s press conference – that he leaves all complaints to be pursued by the authorities and in accordance to the law.

Abdullah also tweeted – and retweeted – complaints about ballot shortages and the like, while Zalmai Rasoul told the AFP news agency that, "any president elected with fraud will not be accepted by Afghanistan".

Groundwork for bargaining

Davood Moradian, director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the candidates are essentially laying down the groundwork for bargaining after the preliminary results are announced.

"Lack of experience in democratic process and a growing trend in election fraud becoming universal - in elections in Turkey, Iran, Pakistan Ukraine, Thailand - has made it fashionable to dispute election results by the losing candidates," said Moradian.

In other words, the candidates' hints at voter fraud have more to do with negotiating with the losing party (thereby avoiding a second round) than with what voters filing complaints about Saturday's process are concerned about.

Indeed, as of Sunday afternoon, the incidents of fraud or other voting issues (shortages of ballots and ballot boxes, etc.) reported were relatively low – 1482, although only 257 are officially registered as the rest were received over the phone and must be submitted in writing.

Voters have 48 hours to register complaints in offices in all 34 provinces, and while many of the complaints focus on shortages of ballots, ballot boxes and - in les secure locations - voter intimidation, some have to do with the concern that votes are being counted properly.

For example, at a center registering voter complaints, Haji Bakhtar, 37, is filing a complaint on how it is that more than 20 people in his family voted for one local candidate, only to find the tally sheet posted at the polling station indicates that candidate got only 4 votes at that station.

"I want to know what happened to our votes," said Bakhtar, owner of a car dealership.

"The same thing has happened at another polling station with the same candidate. We want to know what’s going on."

The real fight, though, will begin once the preliminary results are issued.

That's when candidates will have 48 hours to issue complaints and, said Nadir Muhsini, spokesman for the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission, things will get interesting.

"Because not one will accept defeat well," said Muhsini.

"But if they have a complaint, they have to present us with proof before we take action."

Moradian, though, told me a deal between the winner of the presidential race and the runner up could be struck, giving the runner up with a seat at the table.

"So, everyone's a winner - everyone gets a piece of the pie. It's just a fight over what percentage of the pie they get," said Moradian.

Follow @dparvaz on Twitter