News / Asia

Lack of Cash, Monitors Adds to Afghan Election Troubles

FILE - An Afghan election worker carries ballot boxes at the warehouse of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission in Kabul, Afghanistan, a few days after parliamentary elections, Sept. 18, 2010.
FILE - An Afghan election worker carries ballot boxes at the warehouse of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission in Kabul, Afghanistan, a few days after parliamentary elections, Sept. 18, 2010.
Reuters
Organizers of Afghanistan's make-or-break presidential election next year say poor security, a shortage of monitors and funding holes are undermining their ability to safeguard the process from the widespread fraud that marred the last poll in 2009.
 
Another deeply flawed election would undermine the attempts of Washington and its allies to foster democracy ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops later in 2014.
 
“The foundation of the election due to technical issues was not done in the proper way,” said Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC). “We need measures to secure the process through observers.”
 
Western nations, who have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on a conflict that has failed to end the Taliban insurgency, have pledged about a third less cash to the United Nations (U.N.) fund that will cover most of the election's costs compared with 2009, official U.N. figures show.
 
The reduced budget is partly because some land and equipment that had to be bought last time is being reused and fewer foreign advisers are needed, according to U.N. and IEC chief Yousof Nooristani.
 
“They were drawing good salaries out of this budget... But now there is [a] very limited number of foreigners and everything will be done by the Afghans,” said Nooristani of the advisers, whose number will drop from 160 last time to a maximum of 60.
 
On the ground, however, the signs are not encouraging.         
 
Corruption among election staff is rife, according to both U.N. and Afghan sources, and even those that want to remain independent fear their lives may be in danger if they try to stop fraud. Many key roles in the IEC remain vacant just five months before the poll.
 
There is also a severe shortage of female staff, which threatens to exclude most women from voting and makes polling stations for women harder to monitor and therefore more vulnerable to cheating.
 
More than a third of the country's 34 provinces may be so dangerous in some areas that some polling stations will not be able to open.
 
“In previous presidential election... Observers were not able to monitor more than 30 percent of the country due to security reasons,” said Zakria Barekzai, a veteran IEC commissioner who resigned two years ago and is now head of Afghanistan Democracy Watch, an independent observer.
 
“Security has deteriorated over the years and that has badly affected how the election will be held.”
 
Fraud and Foul Play
 
In a further threat to the election's credibility, there are 19 million voter cards in circulation but just 13 million eligible voters - and cards trade like a commodity.
 
The IEC requested a new voter card system to be rolled out to solve the problem of false or duplicate cards in circulation, but could not get it funded.
 
“The international community refused to support it financially,” said Noor.
 
Major Western contributors however say they are not scaling back their financial commitment, and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says the budget for the election was agreed between Afghanistan and its donors.
 
However, the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC), which is charged with investigating complaints of fraud and foul play - already now in the hundreds - says workers have not been paid since starting months ago.
 
“We are facing difficulties with financial assistance and budget,” said IECC spokesman Nader Mohseni. “UNAMA promised to assist this commission but we haven't received anything yet.”
 
The commission also says it was unable to open provincial offices because it has no money.
 
“UNAMA has brought the issue to the attention of the government and donors,” a UNAMA spokesman said, referring to unpaid salaries. “The IEC is in the process of filling the department head positions that have been vacant for some time.”
 
Donor Fatigue
 
Meanwhile, senior U.N. officials said donors were increasingly fed-up with systemic corruption in Afghan institutions and were more reluctant to invest in next year's election.
 
“[The drop in donations] reflects [a] high degree of skepticism that UNDP can deliver during 2014,” said one of the U.N. officials, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
 
International donors gave more than $200 million to the fund run by the United Nations Development Program to organize the 2009 poll and also funded large international monitoring missions.
 
In 2009, despite the large investment, more than a million votes were thrown out amid accusations of systematic vote-rigging that tarnished President Hamid Karzai's re-election for a second term.
 
For the 2014 vote, donors have agreed to a price tag of just under $130 million and plan to fund fewer international monitors than in the last election, despite U.N. pleas to support as many as possible.
 
Even though their movements may be restricted for security reasons, one senior official explained, the presence of international observers boosted the confidence of domestic observers. In addition, they could become a point of reference for IEC polling station staff to go to with complaints in the absence of support from the government or their bosses.
 
The United States is pledging $55 million for the 2014 poll, which is about 15 percent less than the amount pledged for the 2009 election.
 
Its aid agency, USAID, also backed the international non-profit mission, which had more than 100 observers, but may not fund any international groups in 2014.
 
“This time around the international community is focusing on strengthening domestic observer groups,” a USAID spokesman said, adding that it would announce which ones it was funding at the end of the year or in January.
 
However, domestic monitors say funding is needed urgently and by this stage last year they already had the cash needed to train staff and organize logistics.
 
“This time there is less interest. None of the main donors have come to the country yet to speak about the concerns and funding,” said Jandad Spinghar, head of Afghanistan's largest domestic monitor, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA).
 
“It is getting late now. We have to hire observers from across the country and every move incurs a cost.”
 
The European Union's pledged contribution has fallen more than 70 percent to $13.2 million, the biggest reduction among the top 10 donors. The E.U. said the figures were accurate, but also said its overall contribution had not yet been fixed.
 
“On current projections, our funding is scheduled to be almost identical to the 2009 level,” said an E.U. official. “It is possible that further funding may even mean it will exceed the funding for the 2009 elections.”
 
The weak safeguards in place have left the election exposed to fraud by corrupt officials and the credibility of vote now depends on local and international monitors, according to IEC commissioner Sareer Ahmad Barmak.
 
Barmak said it was hoped that monitors would be spread across most of the country, but in reality, 50 percent coverage would be a good result.
 
U.N. officials agreed that a shortcoming of observers was likely on the day.
 
“There will never be enough observers,” said a second U.N. official, who also asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the press. On the question of staffing for female polling stations, he said, “this is a challenge that no one has an answer to right now.”

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs