Kabul, April 27, 2018
PAYK’s findings into the preparations for the upcoming elections, reveal an ambiguity in the statistics about voters’ registration and polling centers provided by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to the media, which raises some serious questions about transparency.
Overall, it could lead to lack of voter confidence in the electoral process, which depends on high accuracy in the numbers provided – be it polling stations, or votes received.
These findings indicate that the number of polling centers for 2018 parliamentary elections is about one thousand more than the number for elections in 2014, but the IEC did not reveal what exactly the actual figures are for the 2014 elections.
While the Electoral Commission reports 7,180 voting centers in 2014, the official website of the commission lists the number of voting centers listed 6,365. Commission officials in an interview with PAYK correspondent said the figures were incorrect on the website of the Commission.
While all documents in hand, such as the IEC media releases, the website of the Commission, and National and International media reports show that there were only 6,365 voting centers in the second round of 2014 Presidential Elections, the Election Commission now issues a different number i.e. 7180 centers.
A member of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), who did not want to be named in the report, told PAYK in a telephone call:
“In the first round of Presidential Elections in 2014, 6775 voting centers were planned and 6423 stations were opened.”
He also said: “In the second round of the 2014 elections, there were 6,365 voting centers in the plan, but 6172 stations were open on the day of voting.”
So the figure of 7180 stations does not indicate the number of voting centers in any of the two rounds of the Presidential Elections in 2014.
What does this difference mean?
It is unclear whether these statistical differences are due to an administrative mistake in the commission or due to some other reasons. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has designated 7,355 voting centers for the 2018 parliamentary elections. That is about a thousand voting centers more than the number of voting centers that were open in the first round of the 2014 elections. Apparently, it seems difficult to justify the increase of 1,000 new voting centers in a situation where the security condition has not improved since 2014. But if we accept the accuracy of the 7180 voting centers, which the Commission currently says about the 2014 elections, the increase of less than two hundred voting centers is not much questionable.
PAYK assessments on the number of voting centers in the parliamentary elections of the current year indicate that the number of voting centers planned for in the current year elections has risen by an average of 16% compared to the last elections. These numbers have increased by a hundred percent in some provinces, especially insecure provinces.
Although, officials of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said that the reasons for the decrease and increase of voting centers for parliamentary and provincial district council’s elections depend on easy access and participation of more citizens on elections day, but some representatives of the people at the Parliament are doubtful about reduction of the voting centers in some relatively peaceful provinces and its increase in some insecure provinces.
Elections Observers in Afghanistan have also questioned the decrease and increase of voting centers, and insist that professional work has not been done in this regard.
On the other hand, unclear and inaccurate information about how the voters’ registration process has been carried out since April 2018 is another question that has been added to the doubts of the people and experts.
An IEC member says the commission expected 150,000 voters to be enlisted throughout Afghanistan every day, but the current statistics are far lower than expected.
Even though after passing more than two weeks from this process concerns about people’s unwillingness and security threats in some parts of the country still exits, the IEC has not been able to provide accurate daily reports from National Registration Centers throughout the country, but based on data from the official page of the IEC and media reports there is an exaggeration in the statistics provided.
While Hafizullah Hashemi, a member of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), in an interview with TOLO news, said that from t14th April to 23rd April, 2018 the number of registered people reaches 291,000 but at the same time, the updated data from the official page of the IEC showed that they have registered more than 370,000 people from 14th April to 23rd April 2018. Which of these figures is correct? A question that creates doubts about the transparency of statistics released by the commission.
Nevertheless, officials from the Election Commission have spoken about creating a data-bank for voters’ registration and statistics, but the data-bank has not been created so far for unknown reasons.
Decrease and increase of voting centers in the provinces
PAYK findings from the number of voting centers in the last two rounds of elections show a dramatic difference compared to the statistics for this year. The findings suggest that in eight provinces of the country the number of voting centers dropped by 10 percent compared to the second round of 2014 elections, while the number of voting centers in other 26 provinces has increased by one to one hundred percent.
Based on these findings, voting centers in the provinces of Kabul, Balkh, Maidan Wardak, Kandahar, and Paktia have decreased respectively by one to seven percent. Meanwhile, voting centers in Baghlan, Paktika, and Panjshir provinces have dropped by more than 10%.
Data shows that the total number of voting centers in the first round of the last election was 6423, and in the second round, this figure was raised to 6365 voting centers.
This has also led to the rise in the concerns of a number of members of the Parliament in the country. Nadir Khan Katawazi an MP said to PAYK correspondent that officials of the Elections Commission did not consult with any MP on the establishment of voting centers in the provinces.
Mr. Katawazi criticized the 10% decrease in the voting centers of Paktkia province compared to the previous elections and said:
“People from several voting centers in this province are complaining that the centers close to their neighborhoods have been canceled for the coming parliamentary elections …”
At the same time, in 26 other provinces, the number of voting centers has risen from one to one hundred percent compared with the previous elections.
Habiba Sadaat, a representative of the Helmand people in the Parliament said:
“In the past parliamentary elections, where Helmand security was better than today, the total votes of all candidates did not exceed 23,000, but it is odd that, with the exception of Lashkar-Gah the center of the province and the two relatively distant insecure districts, the rest of the province is now occupied by armed opposition, so what will be the meaning of doubling the number of polling centers or establishing ghost polling centers in this province? “
Mrs. Sadaat is doubtful about this and says that based on the country’s political and security situation and the establishment of ghost centers in insecure areas under the control of armed opposition forces, it seems that a greater fraud is going on for the coming elections.
However, Ms. Maliha Hassan, the commissioner of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), says the claim of increase and establishment of ghost polling centers in different parts of the country is unfounded and insisted: “Any decrease or increase has been made based on the needs and requirements of the Commission.”
Status of polling Centers
The Ministry of Interior Affairs has recently announced that more than 2,040 polling centers have been established by the Election Commission in different parts of the country which are under immense and medium security threats, and 984 other centers are outside the government’s control area.
Gen. Murad Ali “Murad” Deputy Minister of Interior Affairs for security, on Sunday, March 25, said in the meeting of security officials that the security of the mentioned centers is included in “Nusrat” military operations.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has also confirmed security officials reports.
But what would be the meaning of establishment of ghost polling centers in insecure areas, especially areas under the control of the armed opposition groups?
Abdul Wadood Payman, an MP from Kunduz province said:
“The goal of establishing these centers can only be to make certain people win by using fraud.”
Mr. Payman adds that generally, the centers which are under threat of armed opposition and a cease-fire program has also been planned for by the supporting powers of National Unity Government on Election Day, like previous elections.
However, a number of MPs in the Parliament say that this action of the IEC is nonprofessional, biased and full of fraud, but some electoral observers have different views on this.
The head of Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan, Mohammad Naeem Ayubzada believes that by establishing more centers, citizen access to polling centers becomes easier and better, but he believes that there should be “transparency and honesty” in this regard.
“The issue of balance and decreasing or increasing polling centers has been one of the main discussions among observers and members of the Commission, but no reason has been proposed by the Commission so far”, said Yousuf Rashid, chairman of the FEFA.
Incorrect information and the likelihood of ghost polling centers
The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan, expressing its concern about the establishment of ghost polling centers and said: “There is no intention of sharing information in the Elections Commission, and this situation undermines the transparency of the process.”
TEFA is also believed that the officials of the Election Commission do not believe in transparency and the Right of Access to Information.
Jandad Spinughar, an expert of elections worries about accurate communication of information by the Independent Election Commission (IEC), and insists that the election is a national process, and the Elections Commission, as a legal entity, is obligated to provide accurate information to the public.
On the other hand, the chairman of the Electoral Complaints Commission, Abdul Aziz Aryayee, said that since the establishment of polling centers for parliamentary elections this year, 373 complaints have been received regarding the increase or decrease of the polling centers in different parts of the country.
“Unfortunately, there are some problems in these commissions, some of which do not communicate information to the media in order to mislead the media and refuse to provide accurate information”, said Mr. Aryayee.
According to Mr. Aryayee out of all complaints filed 184 cases have been handed over to the Elections Commission, which has not yet been investigated due to the lack of capacity and lack of reporting mechanisms, and the remaining complaints have either not been handled or have been considered inapplicable.
Meanwhile, Abdul Nasir Safi, the head of the Independent Election Commission’s Operational Department, accepted the decrease and increase in polling centers and says: “The number of centers has reduced in some areas where two centers are located less than a kilometer away from each other and in accordance with the procedures the number of centers increased where needed.”
PAYK put efforts to get the views of the former and current officials of the IEC secretariat, but it failed. Apparently, Mr. Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, the former head of the secretariat of the Elections Commission, was abroad, and Mr. Warimach, told PAYK, “I am not able to say anything for a while.”
Dr. Shahla Haqparast, the current head of the secretariat of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said in a telephone call to PAYK, “I am not officially allowed to comment on this right now.”
Widespread fraud in previous elections, especially the 2014 presidential election, have seriously damaged the credibility of the election process and IEC. The Impact of people’s distrust on the elections process is clearly seen in their participation in the voter registration process.
In order to revive people’s trust in these commissions, the National Unity Government proposed a plan for the reform of the electoral system a part of which was implemented and the rest of it remained on paper. Transparency in performance, policies, and statistics could be the key to regaining people’s confidence and trust in the elections. If, however, the statistics and information provided by the IEC are now unreliable, how can people believe in the outcome of such an election?