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Second Observation Report of the 2010 Election Observation Mission: The Challenge Period

July 17, 2010

Kabul – July, 2010

The Challenge Period

The challenge period of Afghanistan’s 2010 parliamentary elections took place between May 4 and June 23. Vetting continued for an undetermined number of days after the challenge period ended, and this report covers both overlapping periods.

During the challenge period, individuals and organizations challenged the eligibility of candidates on the preliminary candidates list by submitting written complaints to the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and its provincial offices. The ECC then decided whether the challenges constituted electoral violations.

At the same time, candidates were vetted for ties to illegal armed groups (IAGs) by the Vetting Commission, a body chaired by the Independent Election Commission and composed of representatives of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and National Directorate of Security. The Vetting Commission investigated allegations of candidate ties to IAGs and sent to the ECC lists of individuals it believed should be barred from standing for election based on article 15 (3) of the Electoral Law, which stipulates that individuals “who practically command or are members of unofficial military forces or armed groups” cannot run for office. Candidates found to have ties to IAGs were then ordered removed from the candidates list.

FEFA observers visited Provincial Electoral Complaints Commission (PECC) offices in 31 provinces during the challenge period to assess staffing and accessibility. Using a combination of open source reports and interviews with prospective candidates, electoral workers, and citizens, observers also monitored the overall security situation in their provinces and reported on specific threats against the electoral process and individuals connected with it. FEFA program staff collected written reports from observers at the end of the challenge period and then administered in-depth questionnaires by phone and email.

Obstacles to Observation

During phone interviews, FEFA observes were asked to describe the obstacles they faced in carrying out their work. The two most commonly cited obstacles were lack of available transportation, and poor security conditions. Twenty two of the 31 observers described facing difficulties traveling (13 for security reasons), and 8 described insecurity as the obstacle that most negatively affected their ability to observe. FEFA’s female provincial coordinator in Zabul resigned during the challenge period because of security concerns.

Other difficulties cited by observers included weak communication infrastructure, unwillingness of candidates and PECC staff to give interviews, and the late opening of, and disorganization at, PECC offices.

The cumulative result of these difficulties was extremely uneven observation of the challenge period by FEFA observers, with some observers able to visit their PECC offices more than a dozen times and others able to visit only once.  Therefore, this report should be viewed as an illustrative snapshot of the 2010 challenge period at the provincial level, not a methodologically rigorous survey.

Security Environment

Insecurity and the threat of violence created a climate of fear during the challenge process and complicated its observation by FEFA staff in the western, southern and southeastern regions of the country, as well as some areas in the north.

FEFA observers in 12 provinces – Baghlan, Badghis, Farah, Helmand, Kapisa, Khost, Kunar, Laghman, Logar, Nuristan, Paktia, and Paktika–  specifically mentioned the possibility of Taliban attacks as a source of personal fear during the challenge period.  When interviewed after the challenge period, observers in Nuristan and Khost explained that their involvement with the electoral observation mission, if widely known, could result in direct targeting by the Taliban.  The observer in Khost said he feared he would be mistaken for an election worker and that the Taliban would bomb his house. Other observers did not mention the Taliban by name but mentioned fear of insurgent violence generally.  Nevertheless, only one observer –the female provincial coordinator in Zabul—was unable to carry out her duties and consequently resigned from her position.

Attacks on individuals involved in the electoral process were reported by observers in Badghis, Farah, Helmand, Nangarhar, and Paktika during the challenge period.  The attacks, several of them resulting in fatalities, included physical assaults, suicide attacks, and bombings directed at candidates and election workers.

Increased intimidation efforts by insurgents were observed in the south, southeast, and parts of the north and west during the challenge period. Night letters were reported through direct and indirect observation in 9 provinces, with the general population, election workers, candidates, government employees and Afghan security forces designated as targets. In Zabul, government employees received threatening phone calls warning them not to participate in the electoral process.

Table 1 Night letters and threatening phone calls reported by FEFA observers during the challenge period.

Province Threat Medium Areas/Districts Targets Message Claim of Responsibility
1. Badghis Night letters Bala Morghab, Ghor March, Moqor, Jawand Candidates and election workers Threat of violence Taliban
2. Farah Night letters Posht Road General population Do not travel between 11 p.m. and  4 a.m. Taliban
3. Ghazni Night letters Center of province, Qara Bagh, Andar, Dero General population Do not participate in the electoral process Taliban
4. Ghor Night letters Pasa Band General population Do not participate in the electoral process Taliban
5. Jowzjan Night letters Qush Tapa, Darzab Government security forces Threat of violence Taliban
6. Khost Night letters Yaqubi, Shamal, Sabri, Alisher, Lakan, Bak Candidates and election workers Do not participate in electoral process, threat of violence Taliban, Hezb-i Islami (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar faction)
7. Maidan Wardak Night letters Center of province,  Chak, Siad Abad, Narkh Government employees Unclear Unclear
8. Paktika Night letters Yousif Khil, Mata Khan, Yahi Khil, Saroza Government employees Threat of violence Taliban
9. Sar-e Pul[1] Night letters Center of province, Saiad Schoolgirls Do not attend school, threat of violence Unclear
Zabul Phone calls Unclear Government employees Do not participate in the electoral process Taliban

Provincial Electoral Complaints Commission Offices

Nearly all FEFA observers reported that PECC offices were open in their provinces, but the dates the offices opened, degree of organization, and the responsiveness of staff varied dramatically among the 31 provinces observed.

In several provinces, observers reported that PECC offices did not open until well into the challenge period. The FEFA observer in Maidan Wardak, for example, reported that the PECC office in his province was not operational until June 10.  Late PECC openings were reported in Nuristan, Parwan, and Bamiyan also. In other provinces, observers expressed frustration with irregular hours of operation and general disorganization at PECC offices.

Women’s Participation and Political Rights in the Challenge Process

During the challenge period, FEFA observers reported widespread shortages of women staff at PECC offices, with the vast majority of offices lacking even one woman on staff when visited by FEFA. Observers expressed concern that the lack of female PECC employees would discourage women candidates and voters from bringing complaints.

Complaints Based on Crimes and Human Rights Violations

Based on the current Electoral Law, candidates may only be disqualified for crimes of war or other serious crimes if they have first been convicted by a court of law, a criterion unlikely to be filled given the weakness of Afghanistan’s judicial system and prevailing climate of impunity.  Nevertheless, FEFA received accounts of complaints based on allegations of serious crimes and human rights violations –as it did in all three previous national elections– from every region of the country during the challenge period of the current electoral process.

Observers reported complaints against candidates for illegal land-grabbing in Baghlan, Balkh, Daikundi, Ghor, Herat, Jowzjan, Kunar, Nangarhar, Sar-e Pul and Zabul. Reports of complaints alleging murder and crimes of war were received from observers in Balkh, Bamiyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Herat, Khost, Nangarhar and Sar-e Pul.

In some provinces, observers reported that citizens were afraid to complain against powerful candidates alleged to have committed human rights abuses.  Would-be complainants in Ghor expressed concern to the FEFA observer that the PECC would reveal their names if they complained against a local commander-candidate they had filmed participating in the public flogging of a teenage girl in February 2010.

In Farah, would-be complainants told the FEFA observer in their province that they wished to make complaints against several candidates for involvement in past mass killings, but did not feel they could do so safely or anonymously.

Would-be complainants in Samangan, including several candidates, expressed desire to submit complaints about a powerful incumbent, but were hesitant to do so because this candidate reportedly travels with as many as 16 armed men.

Disqualifications for Electoral Offenses

Two hundred and twenty six candidates were excluded from the preliminary candidates list because of defects in their documentation, primarily defective support lists. These aspirant candidates filed 296 complaints with the ECC. After allowing the excluded aspirant candidates to correct the defects in their paperwork, the ECC asked the IEC to add 195 of them to the preliminary candidates list.

Seven candidates were disqualified for failing to resign from official positions and 1 for registering under a false identity.

Vetting of Candidates with Alleged Ties to Illegal Armed Groups

Vetting of candidates for ties to illegal armed groups (IAGs) during this phase of the electoral process was carried out in an uneven and non-transparent manner that ultimately undermined its effectiveness and jeopardized candidates’ political rights.

According to the ECC, at least 44 individual complaints submitted to the ECC nationwide during the challenge period alleged candidates’ leadership or membership of IAGs. Of the 44 individual complaints, 42 were deemed invalid by the Vetting Commission, and 2 candidates whose names already appeared on a Vetting Commission list were disqualified from running.

Initially, 83 candidates were investigated by the Vetting Commission and listed as members of IAGs. The ECC chose to afford these candidates five days to defend their candidacies and prove their innocence to the security agencies. When every single one of them did so successfully, the Vetting Commission expressed “surprise and dissatisfaction at this total about-face.”[2] Staffan de Mistura, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) echoed that sentiment, saying in a June 23 statement, “The Vetting Committee could have done a more thorough job and at this stage we are disappointed.” [3] FEFA Chairman Nader Nadery also voiced disapproval, saying, “I am very disappointed with lack of a proper vetting process and the fact that some well-known individuals with links to the armed groups were included this time again.”

According to the ECC’s account of the process, “The ECC insisted that the Vetting Commission perform its legal duty and decide one way or the other. The IEC then convened further meetings with the Vetting Commission and some time later produced another list, this time of 13 names.”[4]

During the afternoon of Wednesday, June 30, FEFA received phone calls from candidates who claimed they had been informed by the IEC that they were on a new list of individuals alleged to have ties to IAGs and had been given 48 hours to defend their candidacies to the security bodies.

At an emergency stakeholders meeting convened by FEFA the following day, Judge Johann Kriegler of the ECC explained that the ECC had received from the Vetting Commission a third list of candidates identified as having ties to IAGs, including 16 or 26 newly identified names that had not appeared on the previous two lists (the number 16 was used in the meeting; the ECC’s July 1 press release says 26) along with a cover letter suggesting that these candidates not be provided any opportunity to defend themselves before their removal from the candidates list.  The ECC, however, insisted that the accused candidates be allowed to assert their innocence. A deadline of 48 hours was set after the IEC stressed that was the most time that could be given without jeopardizing the electoral timetable.

After the stakeholders meeting concluded, FEFA Director Jandad Spinghar contacted IEC Chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi by phone. Chairman Manawi said the Vetting Commission had already taken decisions on all 32 names. One candidate had been exonerated and the other 31 would be removed from the final list of candidates during the next working day.

That evening, the ECC published an explanation of its role in the vetting process.  It stated that, “The ECC unfortunately has no power to reject a list produced by the Vetting Commission, however dubious it might appear, but has refused –and still refuses – to order the removal of the name of any person who has had no chance to defend himself.” The ECC “would obviously be pleased” if the IEC agreed to give the 32 accused candidates more time to make representations, it said.

Three days later, FEFA was told, by a source close to both electoral institutions, that the 32 candidates on the third Vetting Commission list had been afforded an additional 3 days to present evidence of their innocence.

On July 7, the ECC released a statement saying that a list with 31 names had been given to the IEC with instructions to remove the named individuals from the final candidates list.

The following remain unclear as of July 15, 2010 and require clarification by the ECC, IEC and Vetting Commission:

  • The total number of lists of candidates accused of IAG ties submitted to the ECC by the Vetting Commission
  • The number of candidates on each list
  • The degree of crossover between the first and subsequent lists
  • The dates all lists were submitted to the ECC
  • The dates all accused candidates were notified by the IEC of their inclusion on Vetting Commission lists
  • The amount of time candidates on each list were given to defend their candidacies
  • The criteria used to identify individuals for the lists
  • The standard of proof applied when considering candidates’ defenses
  • The origin of the most recent list
  • Whether new Vetting Commission lists will be accepted by the ECC between now and Election Day

FEFA intends to interview all the excluded candidates from the third Vetting Commission list and publish a report based on their accounts of the vetting process.

While FEFA would welcome a robust, impartial vetting process, and shares the concerns of wider civil society regarding gunmen serving in elected office, it remains deeply concerned about the lack of transparency demonstrated by the electoral  and vetting institutions and consequent opportunities for bias and violations of candidates’ political rights.

FEFA’s Recommendations from the Challenge Period

  1. The lack of transparency which pervaded this year’s vetting process has undermined the credibility of the electoral and vetting institutions and created opportunities for biased decisions and political rights violations. FEFA encourages the electoral  and vetting institutions to:
    1. Make publicly available by August 1, 2010 a full and accurate joint report on the 2010 electoral vetting process, including answers to the questions FEFA raised in this report.
    2. Provide all elections stakeholders and the media with accurate and timely information throughout the electoral process.
    3. Carry out wider awareness campaigns to inform the general public of how electoral processes are carried out.
  2. The Vetting Commission has undermined the credibility of the vetting process by demonstrating a lack of transparency and insufficient commitment to upholding political rights enshrined in Afghan and international law. To ensure the credibility of the vetting process and the protection of candidates’ political rights in the future, FEFA encourages the Vetting Commission to:
    1. Make public the criteria used to identify candidates with ties to illegal armed groups and the standard of proof applied when considering candidates’ defenses.
    2. Allow an independent investigatory panel, including representatives of civil society, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, to review all cases of candidates accused of ties to illegal armed groups during the 2010 electoral vetting process after the elections for the purposes of devising lessons learned for future elections.
  3. Women’s participation and political rights are still under threat, as the shortages of women staff at the provincial ECC offices illustrate. FEFA encourages the electoral institutions to increase their efforts to recruit female staff and take all other necessary measures to ensure women’s participation and uphold women’s political rights throughout the electoral process.
  4. Insecurity is worsening countrywide and having a predictably negative impact on the electoral process. FEFA encourages Afghan and international security forces to increase their efforts to protect civilians not only on Election Day, but during all phases of the electoral process and in the weeks immediately following its conclusion.
  5. Direct threats and violence against individuals involved in the electoral process are multiplying and will likely continue to escalate as the electoral process moves ahead. FEFA encourages the Afghan National Police and Ministry of Interior to coordinate to promptly and thoroughly investigate all threats against individuals involved in the electoral process and provide security to threatened individuals and institutions throughout the remainder of the electoral process.

[1] On June 23, female students and teachers at a school in Sar-ePul feel ill after a suspected poisoning. See ‘Another suspected poisoning at Afghan girls’ school,’ CNN, June 24, 2010, http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/06/24/afghanistan.poisoning/index.html?fbid=p4HPFIRZjzl

[2] ECC press release issued on July 1, 2010, http://www.ecc.org.af/en/images/stories/pdf/media%20release.pdf

[3] Special Representative’s comments of the electoral vetting process, June 23, 2010, http://unama.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=1762&ctl=Details&mid=1920&ItemID=9347

[4] In its July 1 press release (http://www.ecc.org.af/en/images/stories/pdf/media%20release.pdf), the ECC states that the second list contained 13 names, but its press release on June 19 (http://www.ecc.org.af/en/images/stories/pdf/media%20release%20190610.pdf) states that the second list contained only 8 names. FEFA has been unable to gain clarification on this matter.

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