Fraud and Taliban threat mar Afghan poll
Monday, September 20, 2021 12:16 AM

(Source: Irish Times)By MATTHEW GREEN

REPORTS OF fraud during Afghanistan's parliamentary elections have exposed a rift between voters and the country's political elite that will undermine US attempts to stabilise the country before its troops start to leave in nine months.

Scattered violence, fake voting cards and the spectacle of supposedly indelible ink being washed off voters' fingers in Saturday's poll were discouraging reminders of widespread rigging that marred last year's presidential race.

The stakes for Afghanistan and the West at these elections are even higher. With US forces due to start withdrawing in July next year, early indications of electoral flaws underscore just how far the country's frail institutions are from meeting the West's reform timetable.

"People have no hope for democracy, for changing their government," said Said Sharif Hasheme, a parliamentary candidate in Kabul. He said he received 50 phone calls reporting electoral irregularities in the city. "They've lost faith, they can't trust anything now."

Participation appeared lower than in the presidential poll as dozens of rocket attacks and the closure of hundreds of polling stations due to security fears and Taliban intimidation dampened enthusiasm.

Preliminary estimates from election officials put turnout at about four million. Some six million votes were cast in last year's presidential poll, though many were later dismissed as fraudulent.

Some polling stations in Kabul, Herat and Jalalabad were very busy. But the corrosive impact of fraud during the presidential polls, in which UN investigators threw out one-third of President Hamid Karzai's votes, has bred cynicism.

The political dominance of former warlords and power brokers feeding on a war economy fuelled by Nato contracts has also left many feeling disenfranchised.

"People don't have much confidence in the process, given the results of the previous election," said Abdul Jameel, an official with Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission stationed at a polling centre in a Kabul school.

Disenchantment with Afghanistan's leaders is growing even as the West tries to weaken the Taliban by bolstering belief in the state. Kabul has been urged to take greater responsibility for securing and governing the country to allow the scaling down of the 150,000- strong international force.

Ambitious targets have been set to increase the size of the Afghan army and police, Mr Karzai has been urged to take tougher action on corruption and there have been moves to channel more aid dollars through Afghan ministries.

US president Barack Obama is due to review progress in December.

Thomas Ruttig, a co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a research group, says a big drop in the number of international observers involved in the parliamentary elections, compared with the presidential polls, reflects a broader process of disengagement.

"The West is mentally on its way out of Afghanistan already - a year before the first US troops are supposed to leave," he said. "Saturday's parliamentary elections are its farewell performance, and it has decided to play a role in the wings only."

International observers say it is too early to assess the credibility of the vote. Reforms at the IEC have raised hopes that this election will be more relevant than the presidential race. A final result is not expected until late next month. But the outcome will do little to alter the underlying reality in Afghanistan: the political order that emerged after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 has proved incapable of forging the national consensus needed to end 30 years of conflict. - (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010)

Originally published by MATTHEW GREEN in Kabul.

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