News / Asia

Three Questions: Rating Afghanistan's Elections

Official results from Afghanistan's parliamentary vote are not expected for several weeks, but election observers are already weighing-in on whether Saturday's balloting was an improvement over last year's controversial presidential election.

On Monday, the Washington-based National Democratic Institute said violence marred the election, but millions of Afghans demonstrated "courage and resolve" in heading to the polls and casting their votes. The group said it is still too early to fully evaluate the quality of the election, but observers did find that many problems, some dating back to the country's 2004 elections, still have not been addressed. These include the need for better security for polling stations, steps to ensure Afghan election monitors' independence and fairness, and more prosecutions of election-related crimes.

Scott Worden is a senior election observer in Kabul with the National Democratic Institute. Worden also monitored the presidential elections last year as one of three foreign members of the Electoral Complaints Comission. VOA spoke with him on Monday.

Can you give us an overall sense of whether or not the elections went well?

Scott Wordon: "It really is a mixed picture, bearing in mind that the picture is not particularly clear at this point. But there definitely were some improvements over the process last time. A lot of that is in the preparations for the election and the IEC [Independent Election Commission] under new leadership has replaced a lot of the polling staff that were involved with suspicious or fraudulent results last year. There's been additional anti-fraud measures and policies that they've implemented that I think should make it a lot easier to detect fraud and irregularities as they go through the count. And I think the other important distinction from last year is that it was much more clear, about a month before the election, where they were going to close polling stations because of poor security. And this is important because last year we found that there's a strong connection and correlation between areas where there was poor security and, therefore, no observers and those areas where there is significant levels of fraud."

Describe what you witnessed on election day at polling stations.

Scott Wordon: "I, with others from the NDI observation mission, went to about 10 different polling stations around Kabul. Not surprisingly security was good there. There was a lot of participation that was very encouraging. There were a lot of observers and candidate agents that were in the polls, scrutinizing. And we also noticed that there was a lot of youth involvement, both as polling workers and as agents and participants in the process. And I think this is a great sign that the young people are getting involved in the democratic process here and hopefully will be pushing a reform agenda going forward. So all those, I think, are positive signs and improvements over last year."

Before the vote was even carried out over the weekend, there were predictions from a wide range of people who said there were going to be serious problems. But will the election be good enough so that the Afghan public will accept the results?

Scott Wordon: "Well, I think that is where it's really too early to tell because a lot of the evidence of whether or not there are patterns where it shows there's bias towards one particular ethnicity or not, or one particular tribe within a province, is going to be revealed only when the preliminary results are announced. Now, votes were counted at the polling station level so, the count has been completed now in its entirety, and there were observers and agents that were in polling stations observing this and recording what the vote totals were. I think that there is a lot of discussion in the news media here in Afghanistan about alleged irregularities, about polling stations being closed early and maybe ballot stuffing occurred… But I think that really people won't draw a conclusion until they see how the vote is actually distributed. And then once that happens, then you'll hear your kind of first verdict on whether or not the people think this vote was fair."

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