Afghan Elections Once Again Marked By Allegations Of Fraud

Afghanistan's parliamentary elections were marked by another round of allegations of widespread voter fraud, once again bringing to the forefront the question; what exactly are we trying to accomplish in Afghanistan ?

Yesterday’s parliamentary elections in Afghanistan are being accompanied by yet another round of allegations of widespread election fraud:

A day after Afghan parliamentary elections, scores of accounts of local ballot stuffing as well as the suppression of voting like that in Nagahan are beginning to surface, especially from the troubled provinces in the south and east. It is too early to say how widespread the problems were, but in several provinces there were certainly irregularities, if not outright fraud, intended to help particular candidates.

“There’s not, so far, a clear indication of massive or systematic fraud, but there will very likely be quite a few cases of retail fraud combined with widespread irregularities,” said Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special representative here.

But retail, or localized, fraud is often all that is needed to sway parliamentary elections where the margins can be tiny. Each province is allocated seats in Parliament based on a rough estimate of its population. (There has not been a census in decades.) The top vote getters in each province win the seats.

In Herat Province, for instance, there are 17 seats, five reserved for women and 12 for men. So from a field of about 125 male candidates, the top 12 will go to Parliament. While the candidates at the very top may amass tens of thousands of votes, at the bottom, where 2,500 votes may be enough to win the 12th slot, the margins tend to be smaller.

At that level, it does not require much to tip the balance, and candidates who think they are close may try anything to manipulate the system, said Martine van Bijlert, a political analyst for the Afghan Analysts Network, who has tracked elections for the past several years here.

For example:

Helmand Province, an election commission official was arrested with what were said to be 1,500 fake voter registration cards she was suspected of trying to use for her mother, a candidate, and in Paktika Province, a man was arrested with 1,600 fake cards.

At a polling center at Ghazi Khan High School in Kunduz, journalists and observers watched as election officials and supporters of some candidates locked the doors for two hours and filled out ballots themselves.

The Free and Fair Elections Foundation complained that in nearly 3,000 polling centers — or more than half of the total — its monitors discovered that the ink being used to mark voters’ fingers, and prevent repeated voting, was easily washed off, even though it was supposed to have been indelible.

And if those are the examples where the fraud was actually discovered, once can imagine that similar incidents went undetected throughout the country and that, much like the 2009 Presidential elections, the results, whatever they might be, will be tainted both internationally, and in the minds of the Afghan people, as tainted and illegitimate. Hamid Karzai, after all, is currently President of Afghanistan because he “won” an election that his opponent refused to accept as legitimate after it was clear that the run-off would be tainted by the same fraud that tainted the first round of the elections. The United States accepted the result because we had to, and because getting directly involved in the selection of the leader of Afghanistan would have been akin to President Kennedy’s involvement in the course of events that led to the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, an action which made further American involvement in Vietnam virtually inevitable.

All of this, of course, bring up yet again, the question of what exactly the United States is doing in Afghanistan, whether we can accomplish the goals we’ve set forward, and whether we should even try to accomplish those goals. If nothing else, the brief history of “democracy” in Afghanistan reveals it to be largely a fraud. It’s not even so much that the country is under the control of a tinpot dictator in Kabul and his cronies, though, because the truth of the matter is that the national government appears to have very little real support outside the capital itself. Afghanistan still is, as it has been for centuries if not millennia, a tribal society, and it’s the tribes that have the real control. Added to this is a populace with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Pretending we can create a democratic society in such conditions is both foolish and naive.

So, here we are again with another round of elections conducted by our putative ally that are plainly fraudulent. The Afghan people know their “democracy” is a fraud, and the Taliban and their allies stand ready to exploit that, and it seems likely that whatever confidence remains in the central government will slip away. Meanwhile, the question remains — Why are we still in Afghanistan ? What is it that we’re defending there ? And, most importantly, when we will know we’ve succeeded ?

FILED UNDER: Asia, Democracy, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tano says:

    You seem to think that democracy is impossible in Afghanistan. If that is the case, then should we simply support some non-democratic government that does our bidding, or should we just turn around and leave.
    You constantly repeat the question – why are we there, when the answer seems obvious. Leaving aside for a moment the issue of whether we can achieve our goals, the reason we are there is to prevent the country from once again being ruled by an extremist, fundamentalist movement that is now even more closely allied with the al-Qaeda jihadists than it was a decade ago. Because if those people once again rule that country, then al-Q will once again have a safe haven and training center for their ongoing war with us.
    That has been the stated reason for why we are at war there since we invaded nine years ago. Why is it that you seem so puzzled as to what our mission there is when it has been made clear constantly, by two different presidents? I really do not get the point of your attitude.
    If you notice, I did not say anything about democracy yet. It does follow that if we are committed to keeping the Taliban out of power, that means we need support some other government – and if we are going to adhere to our values, we are going to encourage, as best we can, the formation of a democratic government. But whether the government is, in the end, democratic or not, or maybe half-democratic – the bottom line is that the government there is not a force that is hostile to the US and is not committed to giving aid and comfort to our sworn enemies.
    There is plenty of corruption here at home, and in most other Western democracies. It is not close to being at a level as we find in Afghanistan, but what about if we compare Afghanistan today to the US 150 years ago? A little ballot stuffing? Is that somethign that is unheard of round here?
    Societies constantly evolve, and societies that are on a democratic path can evolve in healthy ways, becoming less corrupt over time. Afghanistan is a tribal society, largely illiterate, and has been in the democracy business for less than a decade (although there were some movements in the last century that had a bit of traction for a while). If this governmental system can maintain itself for a generation or so, it may end up being a far better place.
    That is one of the derivative benefits that may come from our presence – giving the political structure some room to figure things out, to make all the mistakes that they will need to make, to gradually evolve toward a truly legitimate democracy. I cannot understand how you can imagine that something like that could arise, de novo, in just a few years. We wont be there for the whole process, I hope, but we are there now, and we are training the armed forces to hopefully be a force that will protect the political process in the future.

  2. It may be possible at some point in the future.

    It is not our obligation to help bring it about, or to defend the authoritarian fraud who remains in power until it comes about.

  3. Tano says:

    It may not be our obligation, but I would contend that it is very much in our interest to do so.

  4. mpw280 says:

    Yep there was fraud in an Afghanistan election, so lets throw them in the trash heap of history. While we are at it we should throw Minnesota and Illinois in the same heap as their last elections are more than marred with election fraud. Also we should throw Venezuela on the heap as well as their last several elections have been mostly fraudulent. We can also include Iran, and many more nations with loose election controls.
    As was already noted, you seem to want to get the US out of there, as if it has been long enough to form a new type of government there and to get the people to be involved in that government. If your mentality has existed after WWII Europe would be under the communist veil of the USSR today. It seems funny that we have spend over 60 years in Europe and Asia but 10 years is too long for Afghanistan. Have we all grown so weak willed in the US that we can not commit to something that takes longer than 6 weeks or until the democrats turn against it?  mpw

  5. Rock says:

    What’s new? Our elections are always Marked by allegations of fraud. Maybe the Afghans learned from us.

  6. mike says:

    What are we doing there? Spending about $4 billion a month that we don’t have to maintain the status quo.
    If Aghan later becomes a safe haven for terrorists with training camps and the like – well, that’s why we have drones and stealth aircraft and tomahawks. The camp is here today and gone tomorrow. As if setting up the same camps in Pakiston has done anything to stop them anyway. All they had to do was get a change of address card.