Afghanistan: Election Monitor Details Campaign Misconduct and Violence
Kabul, 21 August, 2010 – Afghanistan’s leading election monitor Saturday called on the Afghan government take action against individuals perpetrating electoral violations and the Afghan and international security forces to act decisively to protect candidates and voters ahead of September’s parliamentary elections.
In a report about the launch of the 2010 election campaigns released on its website, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) detailed illegal actions of candidates, increasing attacks against candidates and campaign workers, and widespread intimidation of women.
Electoral regulations ignored
Throughout the country, FEFA’s observers reported incidents of candidates violating campaign regulations and using government resources for personal gain.
Candidates used government cars to transport their campaign staff to events, organized campaign events in government offices, and distributed government property to supporters. Most reports of these offenses named candidates who were former officials or relatives of current officials.
Campaigning in public schools and mosques, both prohibited campaign venues under Afghan law, was also widely reported. Where public schools were used for campaign activities, teachers and administrators were often relatives of candidates, or were candidates themselves. In one case reported by FEFA observers in Takhar province, a principal urged her staff to vote for her in the election and then distributed voter registration cards to underage students.
FEFA has called on the Electoral Complaints Commission and its provincial offices to sanction candidates abusing state resources, and urged the president and his cabinet to stop ministerial officials and provincial governors from giving illegal assistance to candidates.
“The ECC must be more active from now on,” said FEFA executive director Jandad Spinghar, “Many of these violations are happening right in front of the ECC’s provincial offices. The president must also take action to stop governors and ministry employees from using state resources to get candidates elected.”
An election under the gun
As Election Day moves closer, election-related violence is escalating.
FEFA’s field reports from Logar province provided grim illustrations of the deteriorating security situation. Five civilians were killed by the Taliban for taking part in campaigns there in early July. The dead included a campaign volunteer and his brother shot in a house raid, and a shopkeeper killed for displaying a campaign poster in his window. After killing the shopkeeper, Taliban warned Logar residents that anyone visibly supporting the elections would meet the same fate.
Elsewhere, insurgents focused on intimidation, distributing night letters warning voters, candidates and election workers to abstain from the elections or face violent targeting. According to FEFA’s observers, Taliban in one district of Nangarhar province went door to door threatening that anyone caught with a voter registration card would have her or his right hand cut off.
Campaigning local powerbrokers, many of them commanders of illegal militias, waged their own intimidation campaigns to repel challengers. A powerbroker in Ghor threatened violence against candidates seeking to campaign in districts effectively under his control, and a commander in Takhar promised weapons to his supporters and exchanged death threats with a rival candidate.
Women threatened from many sides
Women faced special risks in the rapidly worsening security environment. Out of the ten threats FEFA observers reported directed at specific candidates, nine targeted female candidates. After receiving death threats from members of the Taliban, a female candidate in Ghor was forced to suspend her campaign and move to Kabul.
In other provinces, women candidates were inundated with threatening telephone calls, often late at night, from both insurgents and anonymous individuals believed to be political rivals and community members opposed to women in public life.
Women’s campaigns were barely visible in the most insecure provinces in the south and southeast of the country, and female candidates complained of government indifference to their security concerns.
In its report, FEFA called on the Afghan security forces to take special measures to ensure the safety of female candidates, including introducing them to points of contact in every province.
Candidates frustrated with security forces
Both male and female candidates expressed frustration with the provision of security by local law enforcement, FEFA observers reported. In many provinces, candidates complained that police were unresponsive to their requests for protection, or provided security only to candidates favored by local officials.
A favored candidate in Nangarhar was provided two police cars full of officers for his campaign, while other candidates were refused any police protection, and a nearly identical case was reported in Jawzjan province.
Disregarding the prohibition on their participation in campaigns, members of the security forces in Ghor province took part in campaign events organized by a notorious local powerbroker, and observers in the provinces of Jowzjan, Kabul, Paktia, Samangan and Takhar reported uniformed police officers participating in campaigns and police commanders urging residents to support specific candidates.
“Election related violence and threats are increasing, and the security forces need to prioritize the protection of everyone involved in the electoral process,” said Spinghar. “We need the MOI [Ministry of Interior] and the police to seriously investigate all threats against candidates and provide security to threatened individuals in an objective manner as soon as possible, because the situation is already very dangerous.”