Afghanistan Elections Conundrum (17): Voters disenfranchised in Faryab

Original link (please quote from the original source directly):
https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/afghanistan-elections-conundrum-17-voters-disenfranchised-in-faryab/
 
Author: Ali Yawar Adili
Date: 12 October 2018
 
Almost two-thirds of voters in Faryab will not be able to vote in the 20 October parliamentary elections after insecurity prevented them from registering. Since voter registration ended in early July, the government has seen an even further loss of control and more than a dozen additional polling centres have since closed. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili recently visited Faryab and (with input from Kate Clark) wonders how inclusive an election is possible in a province now largely controlled or threatened by the Taleban. He also reports concerns that because of insecurity in this Uzbek-majority province, they will have a much smaller ‘vote bank’ and less clout in next year’s presidential elections. (A breakdown showing Faryab’s polling centres and registered voters can be read in an annex.)

AAN has put together a dossier of dispatches related to the coming elections, looking at preparations and political manoeuvring. Each dispatch in the Election Conundrum series will be added to it.

Maimana city is in the full flow of election campaigning, with 62 candidates competing for nine seats (with three reserved for women) in Faryab province. The city is papered with campaign posters and it is easy to come across candidates talking to voters. There is a concentration of activity in Maimana because it is one of the few places where candidates are able to campaign. One indication of how much the city is surrounded was the advice given to the author when he wanted to drive to the suburb of Imam Sahib, just twenty minutes from the centre: “Don’t go. It is too risky.” Two candidates described to us the difficulty of reaching voters. Incumbent MP and commander, Fatahullah Qaisari, said he was hoping to reach his home district on a government (ANSF) helicopter; the road was not safe for him to travel. Another, the veteran journalist Muhammad Hassan Serdash, is one of the candidates who have managed – in a limited way – to operate across frontlines:

I was the first candidate who posted his posters in Qaisar district. I sent my posters through Tamir Keprak (Iron Bridge in Uzbek) where the Taleban have checkposts. I had contacted the Taleban asking them to allow my campaign posters to be transported [to Qaisar] and they asked for the number of the vehicle. I provided the number and they allowed the vehicle to go to Qaisar. Mullah Qamar, brother of Qari Salahuddin [Ayubi, the former Taleban shadow governor in the province], an Uzbek from Tir Shadi Almar holds sway there.

However the future may, potentially, not be so easy for him.

The Taleban told me that they would not harm me in their areas because I was a journalist,” Serdash said,” but once I become an MP, I would become their enemy. I told them that I would be a fair MP and speak against the Taleban if their land-mines killed the people.

Faryab is one of the most contested provinces in the north-west. As we wrote earlier this year, it is “strategically important as it connects the western parts of the country with the north – it was through Faryab that the Taleban moved to capture Mazar-e Sharif in 1997 and 1998 and from where anti-Taleban forces came to re-capture the city in 2001.” The Taleban have fought hard to capture territory, so much so that earlier this year, both the government and its international supporters were alarmed that the Taleban were threatening to capture the provincial capital (see AAN’s previous analysis here) That means a majority of the population will not be able to vote in the upcoming elections.

Security-related election statistics – a tale of disenfranchisement

In 2014, Faryab province had one of the highest audited turnouts in the country (and one of the highest proportions of women voters) (see details here). It gave a clear majority to Ashraf Ghani (65.6 per cent): Jombesh-e Melli’s leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum featured as number two on Ghani’s ticket and his party was able to get the vote out in a province where Uzbeks are the largest ethnic group (more on which later). This election will be very different and the reason for that is the steady loss of territory to the Taleban in the last four years.

1) Most polling centres inaccessible because of the insurgency

Faryab has 14 districts including its provincial capital, Maimana. (1) The Independent Elections Commission (IEC) has allocated a total of 238 polling centres spread across the province. However, when the IEC closed voter registration on 6 July, only 108 centres, fewer than half had managed to register voters. 130 others had reported no registration. In one whole district, Kohestan, which has a total of 14 polling centres, there are no registered voters. It has long been inaccessible due to the insurgency and was one of 32 districts which IEC employees carrying out an assessment of polling centres across the country in the second half of 2017 could not get to. (The national average for polling centres that were inaccessible to the IEC because of insecurity is 24 per cent – 1,744 out of 7,180. See AAN’s previous reporting about the exercise here)and for a list of the completely inaccessible districts, see footnote 2).

2) Less than half of the estimated voting population registered

The preliminary list of registered voters (the author got a copy from the IEC provincial office in Faryab) showed a total of 197,976 people (110,869 male and 88,849 female) had registered to vote. This preliminary list had to go through a verification process at the IEC’s headquarters for detecting underage, duplicate and multiple registrations, and the final list is slightly lower (by about four per cent). (The IEC’s final list shows the number of voters per polling centre, as well as the total numbers of the voters in each district and at the provincial level and can be read here). (3) That figure is lower than estimates given earlier to AAN by a provincial IEC official, who thought about 10 per cent might be fraudulent, and candidate Serdash who thought “that 70,000 [out of the preliminary list of voters] were based on fake tazkeras, mainly in Qaisar, Maimana, Andkhoy, Juma Bazar and Dawlatabad.” Such gaps raise some questions about the robustness of the final voting list.

The main problem though is the absolute very low number of registered voters in the province. It is low relative to both the estimated voting population and the number of voters in the 2014 presidential elections. The IEC has given the following figures for Faryab:

Assuming that at least half of the population in the province is over 18 – the minimum voting age – it appears that just 36.7 per cent of those eligible to vote have registered. (4) Guest author Scott Worden placed Faryab among six provinces in which less than 40 per cent of eligible voters had registered. (The others are Farah (26% or eligible voters registered), Badghis (31%), Kunar (33%), Uruzgan (33%) and Kunduz (34%).)

The sharp fall in registered voters compared to the last election four years ago is also clear. The preliminary results of the 2014 runoff presidential election showed a total of 331,123 votes cast: 217,895 (66%) for Dr Ashraf Ghani and 113,228 (34%) for Dr Abdullah. The final runoff results reported 296,202 (197,118  or 67%) for Ghani and 99,084 or 33%) for Abdullah.. (This means that 34,921 votes (10.54%) were discarded as a result of the post-second round audit.) (5) Taking the final results as a baseline, that would mean a drop between voters in 2014 and 2018 registered voters of 36 per cent. This is despite strong population growth, estimated by the Central Statistics Office at 3.5 per cent.

3) More polling centres closed since registration

Since voter registration was completed in early July, the Taleban have gained yet more territory, meaning more polling centres have closed and more voters will not be able to exercise their franchise. Earlier this month, IEC provincial officials told that a total of 15 to 17 out of the 106 centres that had registered voters were now closed because of Taleban gains. The breakdown was as follows:

4) Displacement of the population

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), from 1 January to 23 September 2018, a total of 30,282 Faryabis were forced to leave their places of origin. (This is 12 per cent of almost a quarter of a million Afghans displaced by conflict across the country in the same period.) The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Faryab told AAN on 11 October that 13,809 families had fled their homes in the period between April and July this year and that the displacement “continues as the fighting is continuing.” NRC also said that some of the displacements had been caused by drought or a combination of drought and conflict. It is possible that some of those who were displaced earlier on in the year may have been able to register in the place where they have found sanctuary, but many of the IDPs will not have been. This displacement will likely further reduce the turnout on election day.

The reason for the sharp drop in the number of Faryabis able to get out, first to register, and then to vote is “clear-cut,” candidate Serdash told AAN. In the 2014 presidential elections, he said, “no district had fallen [to the Taleban]. Now, elections are not possible at all in two districts – Kohestan and Belcharagh. And nine districts – Pashtun Kot, Qaisar, Almar, Khwaja Sabz Posh, Shirin Tagab, Dawlatabad, Qaramqul, Kohestan and Gurziwan – are no longer secure.”

The implications of Faryab’s shrinking constituency

Afghanistan’s constitution, as UNAMA has pointed out, states that citizens have a fundamental right to “elect and be elected.” Many people in Faryab will not be able to exercise that right this year. Nationally, the security situation is grave enough for the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto to brief the Security Council (on17 September) on his concerns. “Almost one thirdof Afghanistan’s over seven thousand polling centres could not open due to insecurity. Thisis raising concerns about inclusivity. The main question, therefore, is not whether the elections will be imperfect but how Afghanistan’s electoral institutions will manage these limitations.”

The concern is not just about individual disenfranchisement in Faryab, but, as expressed by some, ‘ethnic disenfranchisement’. Although the Central Statistical Office does not provide an ethnic breakdown of the population, a 2017 UN profile of the province (of which AAN has a copy) said the majority is Uzbek, followed by Tajiks and Aimaq, Pashtun and Kuchi, Turkmen, Arab and Hazara. Earlier UN provincial reporting, from 2007, put the ethnic composition as follows: Uzbek (51 per cent), Tajik and Aimaq (22.3 per cent) and Pashtun (8.6 per cent) (see also previous AAN’s reporting here). The fact that two-thirds of polling centres in this province will be closed is potentially a much more serious issue in the April 2019 presidential election. Given that voting in this poll has tended to go on ethnic lines, having a coherent ‘ethnic’ vote block gives the chance to get a ‘representative’ on the presidential ticket and in power. (A tentative electoral calendar – AAN has a copy – leading up to the presidential vote on 20 April 2019 does not include any new or top-up voter registration. This means that, even if government control of territory improves, those who were unable to register will continue to remain disenfranchised.)

The Uzbeks have been the most coherent electoral block of any of the ethnic groups and this has given them some influence and political status nationally. As the fourth largest ethnic group in the country, this coherence is crucial because the constitution only gives three people power at the highest level – the president and the two vice-presidents. The tendency has been for those three to be a Pashtun, a Tajik and a Hazara. In previous elections, the head of the largely Uzbek party, Jombesh-e Melli General Dostum was able to deliver this ‘Uzbek vote’ to former President Karzai in 2009 and to President Ghani in 2014. Karzai gave Uzbeks few favours in return and even when Dostum was on Ghani’s winning presidential ticket and became First Vice President in 2014 partly because of the very solid block of votes delivered by Uzbeks there have been fewer Uzbeks at the heart of government than might have been expected. This time, the Uzbek vote bank will be greatly diminished and their influence potentially far less. (6)

Some have alleged the insecurity and therefore the drop in the ability of Uzbeks to get their vote out has been engineered deliberately for political and electoral reasons. As the UN Secretary General’s report described it:

Discontent over electoral preparations was largely focused in the North, where security conditions continued to deteriorate, and some opposition figures accused the Government of a deliberate plot to disenfranchise northern communities. That perception was exacerbated following the arrest by Government forces on 2 July of Nezamuddin Qaysari, a district chief of police and close associate of Mr. Dostum in Faryab Province. The arrest triggered protests in the Uzbek-majority Faryab Province that quickly spread to other northern provinces, including Balkh, Jowzjan, Kunduz, Samangan, Sari Pul and Takhar.

The arrest of Qaisari was a significant political event in his home province of Faryab. Presidential deputy spokesman Shah Hussian Murtazavi told the media Qaisari was arrested based on the complaints by the people and his behavior with government departments, while Qaisari supporters insist he was an active and brave commander, a pillar against the Taleban, and that his arrest was political. They also say it was made without a warrant, with torture (see his testimony released by Vice-President Dostum’s chief of staff Enayat Babur Frahmand who visited him on 9 August) and with his bodyguards abused by the commandos (see a video here and here). Without getting into the rights or wrongs of Qaisari’s arrest, it is clear that the government has lost at least some territory to the Taleban since. Local journalist, Qutbuddin Kohi,said that, especially after the video of the commandos kicking Qaisari’s prone, handcuffed bodyguards aired on social media, many local people felt betrayed:

Now people in Faryab see their security forces, especially the commandos as the enemy because they did not come here to carry out operations against the enemy but to suppress Jombesh and arrest Qasiari and after his arrest, the forces in Shirin Tagab and Khwaja Sabz Poshand the commandos stationed here in Maimana left the province.

A less than perfect election, but who will be fighting it?

Seven out of the nine incumbent MPs from Faryab are standing again (see footnote for the sitting MPs) (7). Dr Naqibullah Faeq’s seat remained empty after he was appointed as the head of the Afghanistan National Standard Authority (ANSA) in February 2016 (see media report here). According to article 50 of the electoral law, if a member of the Wolesi Jirga dies or resigns or loses their seats, their seat shall be assigned to the next candidate of the same sex (male or female) with the highest votes based on the IEC’s list of the final results. (8) However, this did not happen, because when Faeq joined the government, the Wolesi Jirga was already serving extra-constitutionally. Faeq is now the governor of Faryab, and is not running again. Another sitting Faryab MP, Gul Muhammad Pahlawan, former commander of Jombesh-e Islami and brother of General Abdul Malek, also a former commander of Jombesh, now the head of his own Hezb-e Azadi-ye Afghanistan (Liberty Party of Afghanistan) and an adviser to Chief Executive Abdullah, is running from Balkh province, due to insecurity in his home village of Faizabad in Shirin Tagab.

Apart from the seven sitting MPs seeking re-election, 55 new people are standing, with a total of 62 candidates in all (43 male and 19 female) (see the list of candidates in footnote 9). One hopeful, Sakhi Nawid, was disqualified by the IEC for links to an illegal armed group. (See AAN’s previous report on the disqualified candidates here).

15 candidates have registered their affiliations with the three major political parties operating in the province – 13 from Jombesh and one apiece from Jamiat-e Islami and Hezb-e Islami. (10) However, one candidate told AAN that a large number of other candidates were supported by one or another political party. This shows the usual practice of political party affiliates running independently whenever they feel it could garner more votes for them.

In the 2010 parliamentary elections, three out of the nine elected MPs identified themselves with Jombesh, as recorded by this NDI’s Wolesi Jirga directory here. Bashir Ahmad Tahyanj from Andakhoy district, Dr Naqibullah Faeq from Almar district and Fathullah Qaisari from Jegdalak village of Qaisar district. (Of these, Faeq and Fathullah Qaisari no longer identify as Jombesh.) Six others were independent.

Conclusion: growing insecurity, a shrinking constituency and disenfranchisement

This year’s parliamentary elections were never going to be easy. Nationwide, disenchantment with elections themselves, after the disastrous 2014 poll, has been coupled with a resurgent Taleban, who by controlling more districts than four years ago have been able to prevent millions of Afghans from even registering to vote. The Taleban, together with the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) in some places, have also directly threatened election workers and security services trying to guard the poll and some Afghans have felt (see here) it is a risk too far to participate. Nevertheless, once actual campaigning started, a measure of enthusiasm has been generated.

In Faryab, the effect of insecurity is being felt more than in most other provinces. Campaigning there is concentrated in a small part of the province and participation will be limited to a third or so of voters. For many among Afghanistan’s Uzbek community, as well as tens of thousands of individual Faryabis who have been disenfranchised by insecurity, this is a huge concern.

Edited by Kate Clark and Thomas Ruttig

 

(1) There has been, as we reported,an administrative “tussle” over another district, Ghormach, as to whether it is part of Faryab or Badghis. The IEC’s list apportioning seats to district councils in preparation for holding district council elections (which have now been dropped) says that Ghormach is part of Faryab based on the IDLG list, but the CSO counts it as part of Badghis. The IEC’s final list of voters per polling centre has put it under Badghis (see here).

(2) Following is the list of the districts that the IEC was not able to access for polling centre assessment.  AAN received it from the IEC:

1) Maidan Wardak: Jaghatu; 2) Nangarhar: Hisarak; 3) Baghlan: Dahana-ye Ghori; 4) Ghazni: Zanakhan (under Taleban control), 5) Giro (only district centre with the government) 6) Ajristan (only district centre with the government) 7) Nawa;; 8) Paktika: Neka, 9) Gyan and 10) Dela; 11) Badakhshan: Warduj and 12) Yamgan (both are completely under the Taleban (see this AAN’s report); 13) Kunduz: Qulbad and 14) Gul Tapa of (both under the Taleban control); 15) Urozgan: Chora, 16) Shahid-e Hassas and 17) Chinarto; 18) Kandahar: Miyaneshin, 19) Shorabak and 20) Reg; 21) Faryab: Kohistan; 22) Helmand: Nawzad, 23) Sangin, 24) Musa Qala, 25) Reg (Khanneshin), 26) Baghran and 27) Disho; 28) Badghis: Ghormach; 29) Herat: Farsi, 30) Zer Koh and31) Pusht Koh; 32) Farah: Bakwa.

(See also AAN’s previous report on the polling centre assessment here.)

(3) On1 October, the IEC reported it had confirmed 8.8 million voter registration stickers as valid nationwide (this excludes Ghazni where the poll has been postponed). The IEC said more than 600,000 others had been invalidated. The IEC has not provided a more accurate figure yet, nor has it given a breakdown of the reasons for invalidation. However, an election expert privy to the criteria listed six: duplicate registration, voter was underage, missing date of birth, missing tazkera details (such as grandfather’s name); lost voter registration books and; voters reported as having registered at polling centres that were officially closed

(4) The IEC has been using population estimates 2016-17 for election planning. This is because when the IEC started planning, the new population estimates for Faryab had not yet been released. The 2016-17 population estimates were:

According to the latest, 2018-19 population estimates its population has grown by 36,775 (3.5 per cent) and now stands at:

Assuming that half of the population is over 18 and therefore eligible to vote, Faryab’s voting population should be 516,382. However, only 189,566 people (104,454 male and 84,974 female and 138 Kuchis) registered to vote.

(5) The final results of the 2010 parliamentary elections per province showed a total of 194,889 votes cast: 187,561 valid votes and 7,328 invalidated votes (cast for candidates whose names were on the ballots but had actually withdrawn or been disqualified by the Electoral Complaints Commission before the election day). 103,184 of those votes were for the elected candidates. The votes cast in 499 polling stations were included into the results. However, the summary results shows 195,314 (187,986 valid and 7328 invalidated). The summary report of polling stations shows 605 polling stations: 501 valid and 104 disqualified.

(6) As well as the number of registered voters being low in Faryab, it was also low in several other provinces with large Uzbek populations. Badghis (31%) was also in the top six of lowest registering provinces, while in Jawzjan and Sar-e Pul reported less than half of the eligible voters registered. The other low registers are Farah, Kunar Uruzgan, Kunduz, Ghor, Wardak, Zabul and Logar.

(7) The seven incumbent MPs running again are: Engineer Muhammad Hashim Awartaq, Haji Muhammad Hashim, Al Hajj Fathullah Qaisari, Bashir Ahmad Tahyanj, Rangina Kargar, Fowzia Raufi and Asefa Shadab.

Two other MPs: Dr Naqibullah Faeq (who resigned in February 2016 to work with the government and is currently the governor of the province, Gul Muhammad Pahlawan (who is running from Balkh this time). (See their short profiles in this NDI’s Wolesi Jirga directory.)

(8) Article 50 of the electoral law concerns how the seats are awarded in a particular electoral constituency and who should replace if a Wolesi Jirga member dies, resigns or loses their seats:

  Level of education; work experience with governmental or non- governmental organizations.

(9) There are 19 female candidatesstanding in 20 October elections (: 1) Shahr Banu Sadat Karezi, 2) Al Hajj Dr Fowzia Salimi, 3) Dr Manizha Bustani, 4) Bibi Nuria Turan, 5) Karima Zaki, 6) Gita Sa’ed (Jombesh), 7) Tahmina Shuja (not mention of affiliation/independent), 8) Aziza Sadat, 9) Ustad Maria Nuri, 10) Saranwal Amena Mokhleszada, 11) Suhaila Asa Kohi, 12) Banu Mukarrama Sadat, 13) Banu Farzana Bahman, 14) Sayyeda Asefa Shadab, 15) Al Hajj Fowzia Raufi, 16) Nasima Yuzbashi, 17) Shafiqa Sakha Yulchi (Jombesh), 18) Hajera Enayat Kamran, 19) Rangina Kargar.

43 male candidates: 1) Dr Eshanullah Wahedi, 2) Ehsanullah Qowanch, 3) Sayyed Shah Wali Parsa, 4) Sayyed Farukh Shah Jenab, 5) Hashmatullah Arman, 6) Fathullah Qaisari, 7) Haji Zahiruddin Safari, 8) Kharullah Anosh, 9) Muhammad Hashem Khan, 1) Abdul Rahim Uzbek Oghli, 11) Sanjar Kargar, 12) Muhammad Ismail Ayubi, 13) Jawid Khan Qaisari, 14) Muhammad Hassan Serdash, 15) Engineer Aman Amin, 16) Muhammad Hashem Ortaq, 17) Faqir Muhammad Sa’idi, 18) Ezatullah Kaigham, 19) Sayyed Esmatullah, 20) Sebghatullah Naderi, 21) Muhammad Anwar Bashliq, 22) Sayyed Daud Sadat, 23) Muhammad Ashraf Sherzad, 24) Bashir Ahmad Tahyanj, 25) Sayyed Farid Hashemi, 26) Ahmad Zia Ahmad, 27) Muhammad Ayub Ghafari, 28) Jamal Naser Farahmand, 29) Shah Mahmud Najwa, 30) Khairuddin Muradi, 31) Sayyed Ehsanullah Hashemi, 32) Sayyed Mamun Gahrik, 33) Muhammad Nasim Rahmani, 34) Farhad Esar, 35) Sayyed Babur Jamal, 36) Hashmatullah Rahmani, 37) Muhammad Rasul Faryabi, 38) Dr Ahmad Jawid Qazizada, 39) Muhammad Saleh Tudehpur, 40) Sayyed Jawid Sadat, 41) Muhammad Shaker Karimi, 42) Edris Barna, 43) Abdul Wakil Faryabi

(see here)

(10) They are:

 

Appendix

No. District No of polling centres No of polling centres reported registration No of registered voters Estimated eligible voters Estimated Population 2018-2019 Estimated Population 2016-2018
1  Maimana 24 24 37,398 44,022 91,490 88,044
2 Pashtun Kot 42 9 19,400 99,542 206,072 199,084
3 Khawja Sabz Posh 11 2 1,743 26,776 55,432 53,552
4 Almar 18 5 10,678 37,064.5 76,733 74,129
5 Belcharagh 11 4 15,335 27,519.5 56,972 55,039
6 Shirin Tagab 15 3 3,594 42,953 88,922 85,906
7 Qaisar 38 19 39,606 75,121.5 155,517 150,243
8 Gurziwan 14 3 14,906 39,978 82,762 79,956
9 Dawlatabad 14 3 4,083 25,700 53,226 51,400
10 Kohistan 14 0 0 28,759 59,538 57,518
11 Qaramqul 9 8 7,306 10,354.5 21,428 20,709
12 Qurghan 11 11 11,177 24,854.5 51,455 49,709
13 Andkhoy 10 10 23,486 21,531.5 44,715 43,063
14 Khanchar Bagh 7 7 9,264 12,210 25,278 24,420

 

Kohestan is not on the IEC’s final list of voters in Faryab

Number District Total polling centres Total voters registered Difference between preliminary and final lists
1 Almar 5 10,514 164
2 Andkhoy 10 22,545 939
3 Belcharagh 4 14,407 928
4 Pashtun Kut 8 16,504 2,896
5 Khan Charbagh 7 8,963 301
6 Khawja Sabz Posh 2 1,675 68
7 Dawlatabad 3 5,296 1,213 increase
8 Shirin Tagab 3 3,622 28 increase
9 Qurghan 11 11,392 215 increase
10 Qaramqul 8 7,342 36 increase
11 Qaisar 19 39,254 352
12 Gurziwan 2 10,907 3,999
13 Maimana 24 37,208 190