The 2018 Election Observed (4) in Paktika: Pre-election fraud and relatively peaceful polling

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Author: Fazal Muzhary
Date: 13 November 2018

Where Paktika has been famous for ballot stuffing and mass proxy voting in previous elections, locals claim that this election was very different. A softer Taleban stance and a new slate of candidates, they say, allowed for more extensive campaigning. And the new electoral measures prevented rigging which, as a result, the electorate – including women – came out to vote. Reports of irregularities were indeed limited, with the exception of a large pre-election scam that involved thousands of duplicated tazkeras and led to several arrests. Turnout, as in most provinces, was varied and, in total, was given as around 20 per cent of registered voters. AAN’s Fazal Muzhary observed the election in this southeastern province and explains how it went before, during and after election day.

Interesting and new candidates

Paktika, with a population of close to 1.5 million people, has four seats in the Afghan parliament: three for men and one for women representatives. (1) A total of 30 candidates ran for these seats, eight women and 22 men (see the candidate list here). Three were incumbent candidates, Mahmud Khan Sulaimankhel, Nader Khan Katawazai and Najia Babakarkhel Urgunwal; the rest were new contenders, although a few had also run in the 2010 election. The new candidates included Muhammad Mirza Katawazai, a rich businessman living in Kabul who is originally from one of Paktika’s more peaceful districts, Yahyakhel. He claims to be the fifth-richest man in the country. According to his campaigners, Mirza registered 500 million US dollars as his net assets at the Independent Election Commission (IEC). Though his claim of being the fifth-richest man in the country can be questioned, he may well be the richest in his province.

The population mainly consists of Pashtuns whose tribal structures are largely still functional. Apart from this, there are Tajik enclaves in the provincial capital Sharana and the second-largest town, Urgun, in the southeast of the province. Paktika came into being as a separate province relatively late, under President Daud (1973–78). Therefore, the sense of belonging in the three sub-regions is still relatively strong: (a) the northern-central zone with the districts of Matakhan, Sarhauza, Sharana, and Yusofkhel, which are mainly dominated by the Andar, Kharoti, Alikhel and Sulaimankhel tribes; (b) the southeast along the border with Pakistan with the districts of Urgun, Gomal, Barmal, Gian, Zeruk and Sarobi, dominated by Dzadran and Wazir – both had belonged to the old ‘Greater Paktia’ – and (c) the southwest which had formerly belonged to Ghazni province, known as Katawaz and mainly inhabited by the large Sulaimankhel tribe (districts: Zarghunshahr/Khairkot, Khushamand, Tarwa, Wazakhwa, Wormamey, Omna). The government has a strong presence around the provincial capital, Sharana, and in Matakhan, Yusofkhel, Khairkot, Yahyakhel and Urgun districts. Apart from those five districts, the Taleban fully control Nika and Omna and have varying degrees of control and presence in the rest of the districts, particularly in southern Katawaz.

The thirty candidates in Paktika were mainly from six tribes. Sulaimankhel was the leading tribe, with seven candidates; Kharoti was second, with five candidates. The Pashtun tribes of Alikhel and Dzadran as well as the Tajiks had three candidates each and the Andar tribe had two candidates. The other ten candidates included the eight female candidates who were mostly not originally from Paktika. They were either married to husbands from Paktika, or for some reason had tazkeras from the province (only one female candidate is originally from Paktika: Suraya Akbari, who is Andar by tribe and from Matakhan district). The other women candidates included Maryam Zurmati, who according to local people is originally from Zurmat district in Paktia, and a female candidate who claims in her biography, (see the biography here) to be Alikhel. Local people say she is not from Paktika and can hardly speak Pashto; some claim she is Tajik from one of the northern provinces.

The Taleban’s softer policy gave space for campaigning

Local people, including civil society activists, journalists, and businessmen, told AAN that this year’s parliamentary election was interesting and different from the previous ones. In previous elections, residents of the central zone did not see much campaigning by candidates. One of the major reasons was insecurity, based on a widespread Taleban presence and the fear of attacks. A local journalist, Abdul Bari, told AAN that in previous elections, candidates had difficulty finding campaign offices: “If a person would rent his house to a candidate, the next day he would receive a call from the Taleban who would threaten to kill the house owner.” Therefore, no one wanted to rent out their houses as candidate campaign offices.

Previously, Taleban fighters not only warned ordinary voters in the rural areas against casting their votes, they also prevented local radios from publishing advertisements of candidates. One local journalist, who has worked at Pashtun Ghazh (Pashtun Voice) Radio for more than ten years, told AAN, “In the past we could not broadcast a single candidate advertisement. If we did, the next day Taleban fighters would inquire why we did that.” In this year’s election, he said, local radio stations broadcasted campaign adverts and conducted several roundtables without much of a reaction. Once local people and candidates grew confident that there seemed to be no serious threats, they tried to benefit from the opportunity.

Candidates visited many of the district centres and large villages in all three zones of Paktika, sometimes even in large convoys (see for example this video). Local people told AAN that the candidates paid visits to 11 out of the 19 districts during their campaigns and sent their representatives to remote districts where the candidates could not go. The candidates even gathered people in remote desert areas and paid visits to different districts in the evenings – a riskier time to travel, but better for campaigning as people can gather in village mosques and local bazaars. For many of Paktika’s residents it was their first experience of an actual electoral campaign in their own area.

The richest candidates organised cricket tournaments and educational competitions between schools with big prizes. For example, Muhammad Mirza, the richest candidate from Yahyakhel district, sponsored a cricket tournament in Sharana city before the election where the winning team received a car. Muhammad Daud Katawazai gave a motorbike to the winning team of another cricket tournament. In the educational competitions, participants who wrote good poems or correctly answered questions about the books they had read received money as a gift. Both candidates invited musicians from Kabul and held music nights, which according to local journalists were popular, particularly with the youth. Muhammad Daud Katawazai even paid a musician from Jalalabad to compose a campaign song for him, which plays in the background here. This kind of campaign, people said, had not be seen in Paktika in any of the previous elections.

Before the election, residents of all three zones – central, eastern and western – recounted how the Taleban had left prospective voters largely alone, whereas in previous elections Taleban fighters would tell people not to cast their votes. One resident who lives about six kilometres to the north of Sharana city told AAN, “In our mosque the Taleban told people that if anyone would cast his or her vote, they would cut their fingers.” This year, he said, no such threats had been reported prior to the election.

After the election, a journalist who did not want to be named said: “If the Taleban had wanted to disrupt the election, they could have easily done it. If they had made a single call to any of these voters, I am sure we would not have seen such long lines of voters in Sharana.” In the end the Taleban did try to disrupt the election in certain areas, mainly through shelling (see below); the impact was limited.

Reactions to the Taleban’s softer policy

Local journalists and civil society activists said they did not know the exact motives behind the softer policy of the Taleban or whether some of the candidates or local officials had made deals with the Taleban. Some thought the general talk about a possible peace might have prompted them not to want to disturb the vote. Walid Alikhel, an observer of one candidate, thought the Afghan security forces had become stronger. He said security forces had been deployed to all places where the election was planned and had pushed the Taleban to areas from where they could not easily reach the cities or attack the polling centres. A civil society activist said he thought the Taleban had simply not seriously wanted to disrupt the election. His argument was that if Taleban fighters had wanted to target polling centres, they could have fired rockets in almost all districts of the province, or sent suicide attackers, and the Afghan government would not have been able to prevent it.

He thought they had two possible reasons for not wanting to attack. First, since the media did a lot of campaigning in favour of the election process, saying it was a civilian process, the Taleban fighters might have realised that their attacks would mostly harm civilians and may have decided to refrain. The second reason, he said, could have been a more general policy of the Taleban to not seriously target the elections (although looking at some other provinces that does not seem to have been the case; see for instance this AAN report about Kunduz and this report about Zurmat district in neighbouring Paktika).

According to local journalist Dad Muhammad, the Taleban fighters in Paktika have simply not been very active recently and have rarely been conducting attacks against government forces. He said the most recent attack had been on Khushamand (also known as Dela) district, a week before the election. Beside that, there had not been any major attack by Taleban fighters in the province since August 2017, when they carried one out on Gomal district. The major reason, he said, was that Taleban fighters had been busy in neighbouring Ghazni province.

Election day in Paktika

Election day in Paktika appeared to go relatively smoothly. Although some polling centres opened late or suffered technical or logistical problems, this seemed to have been less prevalent than in other provinces. Paktika was one of the few provinces where the IEC did not call for a second day of voting. Harun Bawar, the provincial director of the IEC, said that most centres in the province had started operating on time, at 7:00 am. Some centres, he said, opened one or two hours late and only one polling centre, in Ali Baz in Urgun district, had started operating after 12:00 pm (because, he said, the voter list did not arrive on time).

Local reporter Rahim Khushhal, however, told AAN that additional centres had started operating late. He gave the example of Al Jehad High School, in Sharana, where voting started around 11:00 am. AAN also learned that some polling centres opened late in Yusofkhel, Yahyakhel and Khairkot districts. Other journalists spoke about centres that had not opened at all, but could not give exact names. After election day, the IEC official said that all 166 centres across the province had been open, but local journalists found that difficult to believe.

Later, it turned out that, according to voters and observers, local IEC officials had given false reports to the IEC officials in Sharana, telling them that the centres had started working on time when this had not been the case. For this reason, their seniors hadn’t seen a need to either extend the time of voting or allow certain centres to be open for voters on the second day. “We were either intentionally ignored or local IEC workers were negligent,” one voter, Zamir Khan in Yahyakhel told AAN over the telephone.

Observing the vote in Sharana, the provincial capital

AAN observed the opening of the election process at the Ali Baba High School, one of the 16 polling centres in Sharana. Voting started on time at 7:00 am. Voters’ turnout was low in the beginning, but later increased as people started casting their votes at nine stations (seven for men, one for women and one for Kuchi voters). Based on the voter lists AAN has seen, 3,800 voters (of whom 226 were Kuchi and 25 women) had registered at this centre. The long line of menwaiting to cast their votes, numbering in the hundreds, continued until midday. After that, the lines became smaller. In two stations in this polling centre, the process started with a small technical problem when the biometric machine did not start properly, but this was resolved in about 30 minutes. At this centre people could cast their votes in three to five minutes; only rarely did voters spend ten minutes or more. But because so many voters turned up, some had to wait for more than two hours. Based on AAN’s observation of the logbook at the end of the day, roughly 1,800 voters – including 16 Kuchis and 12 women – had cast their votes at this centre (a little less than half of the voters who had registered here). The main problem observed was that some voters could not find their names on the voter list.

At a second polling centre, in the provincial hospital in Sharana, AAN also observed a considerable turnout. Here, 2,247 voters had been registered, among them 534 women and 75 Kuchis. They could cast their votes at five stations. Voting started without problem and AAN did not see any irregularities, except again of people not finding their names on the list. At the end of the day, 887 voters (654 men, 230 women and three Kuchis) had cast their votes – around 40 per cent of those registered.

At Yusofkhel High School (where 1,900 voters were registered, among them 150 women), around 820 voters, including 30 women, had already cast their votes by the time AAN visited in the early afternoon. Similarly, at Khushhal Baba High School in Mushkhel district, AAN observed a polling centre where 830 out of the 1,900 registered voters had cast their votes by the afternoon. Local observers at both centres said they did not see any problems on election day.

At one of the polling centres in Sharana city, AAN saw a large number of women waiting in front of a tent for their turn. Once inside, the women generally spent two to five minutes casting their votes. The female candidate observers said they did not see any problems at this station. A female IEC worker who had also worked in previous elections told AAN that women’s participation was much higher than in the past. In previous elections, very few women showed up, but in this year’s polling, she said that, as soon as the voting started at her centre, within an hour, dozens of women had shown up. At this female station, AAN observed that, by the afternoon, 230 out of 534 registered female voters had cast their votes.

At all four centres visited by the AAN observer, voters said they were happy to take part in the election and to vote for their representatives. The voters included men and women, youth, elders, teachers, students, journalists, members of the security forces and Kuchis. One voter who did not want to be named said that in the past there had been many security problems, but this year, security was good and that allowed people to take part in the election. As many women had difficulty coming to vote from areas far from the polling centres, some villagers voluntarily used their cars to drive women to the city so they could cast their votes. Walid Ahmad, one of the volunteers, who drove several voters to the provincial hospital, told AAN: “We drove these women here only to help them cast their votes for their favourite candidate. No one has paid us to do this.”

A high level of participation in and around the capital and in the central zone

Talking to AAN during the election as well as on the day after the election, local journalist Yasin said he thought the introduction of the biometric system had been an important factor in increasing voter participation, as it had built people’s confidence that there would be less rigging. Because most candidates realised there would be no (or less) chance for fraud, they tried harder to campaign. As a result, ordinary people understood the significance of the election. This, he said, in particular affected women’s participation, because candidates had encouraged their tribes to let the women vote too. Where previously men would often cast votes on behalf of their female family members and relatives, this year women came out and cast their own votes.

People told AAN that the number of women who voted at many centres in Sharana, Yusofkhel, Urgun and some other districts could not be compared to previous elections. Local journalist Obaid told AAN that in Mest area of Yusofkhel district, women were casting their votes until late evening. According to a member of civil society who visited polling centres in five different districts, many men had voted in the morning, but the number of women was less. But in the afternoon, he said, the number of women increased and they came to cast their votes until late in the evening. Talking to AAN, he said that he had also witnessed considerable numbers of women voters in Khairkot and Yahyakhel districts. He said that because security was good, most candidates had observers in most of the polling centres. Therefore, he thought, most districts saw no ballot stuffing, even though many  had been previously known for it. For example, he said, in the previous election, ballot stuffing had been reported in Yahyakhel, Khairkot and Janikhel districts. “This year, we did not have a single report of ballot stuffing,” he said.

He also believed that changing the system from voting cards to stickers on people’s tazkeras – the new registration system that linked voters to polling centres (see previous AAN reporting here for details) – played a key role in people’s increased participation in the election. After this decision, the office for population registration started distributing new tazkeras in local villages. In several places in the central zone, as well as in districts close to the provincial capital, their workers went from house to house. Whereas in the past many families did not allow their women to go to the city to get a tazkera, this time they did not mind because it was distributed in front of their own houses. As a result, many women who had never had an identity document now got a tazkera and were able to vote.

Obaid also thought that the level of participation had been particularly high in the central zone – Sharana, Matakhan, Sarhauza and Yusofkhel – because people from this area had had no representative in the past two parliaments and had felt side-lined by the MPs from Katawaz and Urgun zones. According to civil society activist Elham, when people from the central zone needed help, they were mostly ignored, as the MPs from other zones did not care about the problems of people from the central zone. This, he said, was the main reason that ignored residents of the central zone decided to not only have candidates but also to actively participate in the election.

The election in the Katawaz (southwest) zone

The election in the southwest and southeast zones of Paktika generally went smoothly, although in several districts no or very little polling took place. In the Katawaz zone, elections took place in Khairkot, Yahyakhel, Janikhel, Tarwa, Wormamey and Wazakhwa districts, although in the Tarwa, Wormamey and Wazakhwa this was largely limited to the district centre due to limited government presence. In these districts, around five to 20 per cent of registered voters appeared to have cast their votes. Independent observers from civil society – who did not want to be named because they said attributing the figures to them could cause problems – said that in Khairkot, 3,125 out of 30,000 voters cast their votes (10 per cent); in Yahyakhel, 3,500 out of 20,000 (17.5 per cent); and in Janikhel, about 1,500 out of 30,000 (five per cent). In Janikhel, most of the votes were cast in Jalalzi village, where observers counted 900 votes. In Wazakhwa, around 750 votes were cast; in Tarwa, about 800 and in Wormamey, about 3,000. (Most of these figures are based on observers’ record of the tallies in the ballot books at the end of the day.) AAN was told that in all these districts, the presence of candidates’ observers was thought to have reduced the possibility of rigging, whereas in the past, they said, ballot stuffing had been widespread.

In Omna district, very few votes were cast. Polling took place at only one centre, where observers told AAN that only 60 votes were cast. This polling centre was in Ginawa area; the district compound was moved here in June 2016, after the district fell to the Taleban. In Khushamand district, there was no election at all. Around 800 voters had registered near the district compound, and local observers told AAN that the IEC had sent materials and staff, but the voters simply did not show up. The IEC head, Harun Bawar told AAN on the day after the election that in this district one vote only was cast (possibly one of the staff). Local observers told AAN that the lack of turnout was mostly because of a Taleban attack in Khushamand a week before the election. As many as 21 Taleban fighters and 14 security forces were killed in the attack.

Problems were reported in a polling centre Khairkot district, where observers had initially counted 3,125 votes but claimed that after IEC workers had interfered, the count went up to 4,600. In Janikhel, AAN was told that one candidate, Mahmud Khan Sulaimankhel, had taken people’s tazkeras in the nomination process and had not returned them after his nomination, which meant that these eligible voters could not cast their votes. In Yahyakhel, voters told AAN that the election started around 10:00 am due to problems with the biometric systems. One observer told AAN: “The IEC workers could not turn on the biometric machines. By the time the machine started, there were already hundreds of voters waiting in the queues, which resulted in many voters’ frustration.” Voters were unhappy that the IEC officials did not listen to their demand to extend the time for voting. Security officials apparently told IEC workers to stop working exactly at 4:00 pm, as they said they could not protect the centres beyond that time. Observers said this deprived a number of people from voting.

In Khairkot district, three polling stations allocated for Kuchi voters were closed on election day. Two of these stations were in Segana area and a third was at the district hospital. According to observers, Kuchi voters had registered at these centres but could not vote here. One observer told AAN, “The IEC workers told the Kuchi voters, that since so few Kuchis had registered, they could not open a separate polling stations for Kuchis.” Voters were told that wherever fewer than 100 voters were registered, no separate polling station would be open for Kuchis.

The election in the Urgun (southeast) zone

In the eastern zone of Urgun, local observers said there had been no election in Neka district. IEC officials told AAN that they sent all required materials to the district without any problem and that the polling centres had been open, while local observers said that no polling centres were open. In Gomal district there was only one polling centre, in the Shkin area, which borders the South Waziristan Agency of Pakistan. The main populated area, Chahrbaran, had no polling centre as it is currently under Taleban control. In Sarobi district, the election was disrupted by Taleban rocket shelling, but local observers said that 1,200 votes were cast in this district, despite the shelling. No problem was reported in Barmal district. Local observers thought that the fact that two candidates, Taj Ali Wazir and Admir Entezar, were active in the district was why no rigging had been reported.

In Gomal district, ballot stuffing was reported. Civil society activists told AAN that the ballots had already been stuffed before election day. When National Directorate of Security (NDS) operatives found out what had happened, they confiscated the stuffed boxes and arrested the IEC staff. In Zerok district, ballot stuffing was reported at the end of the election day. Observers found that the stuffing was in favour of Daulat Khan Dzadran. In Sarobi, observers told AAN that according to their observations 1,200 votes were cast during the day, but later the results showed more than 3,000 votes.

Security problems

The election took place in a relatively peaceful atmosphere. Four areas in the entire province had security-related incidents; there were casualties, but relatively few. These incidents included shelling by Taleban fighters in southeastern Sarobi, eastern Sarhauza, and northern Matakhan districts, and rockets fired at Omarkhel area in the southern part of Sharana. The rocket, fired in the afternoon of 20 October, killed one child and wounded a man. Two persons were wounded in the shelling in Sarobi district; one was an observer and the second a policeman. In Sarhauza, one policeman and a civilian were wounded. There were no casualties reported in the shelling that targeted some northern villages of Matakhan district. According to a local source who works with an NGO, people continued to go to the polling centres to cast their votes despite the shelling. There were no reports of Taleban fighters preventing voters from casting their votes, even in the remote districts where they could easily have done so.

The IEC figures and pre-election fraud

Based on IEC’s database, 186,611 eligible voters had registered during the voter registration process (see here). Out of those possible voters, IEC officials told AAN on 28 October 2018 that an estimated 38,000 people had cast their votes on election day. This represents around 20 per cent of the registered voters. The officials, however, stressed that these were rough estimations and could not be considered final, as they were based on reports from IEC workers from the sites. Some ballot boxes had yet to arrive at the provincial capital and the official count was still underway.

An IEC official said he thought it was possible that “a lot of ghost voters registered in the registration process and that only actual voters had shown up on election day.” ‘Ghost voters’, here, refers to registrations made that were not linked to actual people. Journalist Yasin had a different explanation, saying, “In the beginning, when several names were mismatching [people could not find their names on the voter list], this frustrated the people and affected voters’ participation.”

Another important explanation may be found in pre-election fraud that took place and that has remained largely unreported in the media (except some social media posts by local Facebook users). The fraud, which took place in May 2018, centred on the use of duplicate tazkeras, initially to bolster candidate registration, but later to try to increase the size of the vote banks.

When the Population Registration Department issues a tazkera, there are two original copies: one is given to the holder and the second is kept at the department. Local journalist Obaid and civil society activists told AAN that several candidates were able to buy large numbers of the originals kept at the registration department. Initially the tazkeras were used to meet the requirement for candidate application (1,000 tazkeras from supporters). Later, larger numbers were bought to ‘register’ additional voters. Initially, very few people knew about the ‘scheme’ and it was not considered a large problem, so no steps were taken to prevent it happening. When the numbers rose, NDS officials learned about it and arrested the Population Registration Department general director, Anwar Khan Katawazai, three PRD officials from the districts and three local IEC workers. They also confiscated an unknown number of tazkeras and an unknown amount of money. AAN was told that the candidates had paid several thousands of dollars, but the exact amount was not identified. (Some of the Facebook posts can be found here, here and here)

The candidates who bought original copies of the tazkeras from the PRD officials bribed local IEC officers in their districts to include the tazkeras in the voter lists and to provide them with the necessary registration stickers. In many cases, this resulted in a problem of duplication. The real holders of the tazkeras were registered in their own districts at their own polling centres, while the candidates often re-registered the same tazkeras in other districts. Most of these duplicates were taken from voters who registered in the central zone, possibly because candidates thought it would be easier to do the rigging in the absence of strong incumbent candidates. The duplicates were also most easily available here from the main PRD office in Sharana. According to local journalists, several of the candidates bought tazkeras in the process of candidate registration; but, in the process of voter registration only some influential and rich candidates were able to buy them.

After the PRD officials and IEC workers were arrested and sent to prison, the IEC officials decided to clear out the duplicated tazkeras. They removed 30,000 tazkeras from the voter database after filtering several thousand of them. This  resulted in the removal of large numbers of actual voters. As the IEC officials cancelled duplicated tazkeras, they were unable to decide which belonged to an actual voter and which was the ‘ghost’. As a result, many voters could not find their names on the voter list on election day, despite having actually registered, and were not able to vote.

Post-election problems

Some reports of problems came out after the election was completed in Paktika. On the day after the elections, Taleban fighters confronted voters in some districts and asked them why they had voted on election day. A local journalist told AAN he received a call from a local Taleban fighter in Kharbin area. “The Taleban fighter told me he would kill me if he found me outside Sharana city,” he said. When asked why the Taleban would threaten him after the election was over, he said, “They might have just intended to frighten people; otherwise, these threats after the election are meaningless.” In Matakhan district, Taleban fighters threatened teachers who had worked for the IEC on election day and told them they would beat them if they collected the money the IEC was supposed to pay.

IEC head Harun Bawar, confirming the Taleban threats, told AAN that teachers from Khairkot had indeed called him and told him they did not want to receive their pay, for fear of being beaten. In other places, sources told AAN, local Taleban told IEC workers to share the money they would receive from the IEC. There were also rumours that the Taleban wanted to punish IEC workers for their work. Some of the staff who went to Kharbin area to meet the Taleban, had reportedly been beaten.

Another problem was that one female candidate, Hila Mujtaba, accused the Paktika governor, Elyas Wahdat, of mistreating one of her observers at the governor’s house. Her observer, Zahir Khan, in a video report told Ariana News that the “governor personally beat me and put me in his private custody for five hours” (see the video here). In the same report, the governor’s spokesman, Muhammad Ayaz, rejected the accusations as baseless. He told an Ariana TV reporter: “There has been nothing done like this. We have rules and everything should go according to the rules.”

The third problem was that on 30 October 2018, the prosecutor’s office in Sharana detained five local reporters for publishing Mujtaba’s allegations. These journalists were detained for five hours at the prosecutor’s office. One local reporter, who did not want to be named, told AAN, “The prosecutor’s office people asked the journalists why they published the reports and said that they had crossed the privacy limits, but they did not explain whose privacy.” The reporters’ response was that they had published both the allegations and the reaction of the governor’s house and that this should have not been problematic. One of the detained journalists, elaborating on the threats they received at the prosecutor’s office, said: “They told us they would put their feet in our mouths and silence us forever.” Paktika’s governor, in a separate meeting with a group of journalists, told them he would ask the prosecutor’s office why the journalists had been detained for five hours.


The IEC’s move to address pre-election fraud resulted in the disenfranchisement of an unknown number of voters whose takers had been misused. It may also have scared away other voters. Similarly, the claims that all polling centres were open and opened on time meant that polling was not extended – into the evening or to a second day – as happened in most of the country. This may also have deprived voters of the opportunity to vote. Otherwise, the election, from local reports, appears to have gone relatively smoothly. There were some reports of ballot stuffing, rigging and interference, particularly in the remote areas. There were a few security incidents. Overall, however, the election appeared to have presented new opportunities: a new slate of candidates, campaigning where this had not happened before, tazkeras for people who had never had one before, and some actual turnout. Many voters and observers expressed cautious optimism over the quality of the election in their province. The preliminary results, once released and to the extent that they match what was observed on election day, will bring more clarity.

Edited by Martine van Bijlert and Thomas Ruttig

(1) Paktika’s provincial centre, Sharana (which is the north of the province), is located about 160 kilometres southeast of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. It borders Zabul to the southwest, Ghazni to the west, Paktia to the north, Khost to the east and the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan to the south and southeast. The population figure of almost 1.5 million is based on the 2018 statistics of the Central Statistics Office (CSO).