Press Release regarding FEFA's observational findings of 2018 parliamentary election
First of all, we thank the citizens of Afghanistan, the observers and the media. The wise and committed citizens of the country had a widespread presence in the election despite security threats and operational shortcomings to vote in favor of democracy and lawful government. The vast public participation is a sign of political growth and development in the country and good news for the future of this land. The fate of democracy depends on active people’s contribution in big decision making processes in the country. We are also grateful to the brave and devoted security forces. For the first time, the national security forces have ensured the security of the polling centers in the absence of the international security forces. Despite the extensive efforts of terrorist groups and their supporters, the security situation was good and the ability and commitment of the security forces have created hope among the people. We pray for the martyrs’ souls from yesterday’s incidents to rest in peace and wish a speedy recovery for the wounded. We appreciate and thank the FEFA volunteer observers and colleagues, all other observers, civil organization, political parties, and groups who have taken actions to ensure the transparency and integrity of the election. With all the difficulties and limitations, they have monitored the voting process and accurately and thoroughly recorded and reported the deficiencies, violations, and electoral fraud. The role of the people, security forces and civil society groups is both a symbol of democracy and its necessity. We hope that the culture of political participation that has been displayed in the yesterday’s and today’s elections helps raise the level of prosperity in the country. The second issue depends on IEC and IECC; unfortunately, IEC could not meet the expectations of people and observing institutions. Having minor defects and shortcomings are a natural part of the process but the extent and volume of yesterday's failures which resulted in one-day extension of the voting period, although imaginable, was unexpected and unpredictable.
FEFA (Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan)
Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan appreciated the work of the Afghan security forces, civil society and political observers, in additions to highlighting the shortcomings of the polling day through a press conference. Mr. Yusuf Rasheed, the executive head of FEFA, appreciated people’s widespread presence despite security threats and operational shortcomings to vote; but the imperfections which resulted in one day extension of the voting period is a big failure for IEC. At the end, IEC was called to provide facilities to address the complaints of citizens, observers, and candidates during the statutory period. In addition, addressing the complaints must be prompt, serious, and accurate in order to control the mismanagements that occurred at the first and second day of polling.
The IEC has obviously experienced the bitter taste of failure both in terms of management and technicality and then imposed it on people as well. The reports of FEFA observers and observers of other institutions, mass media and direct experience of the citizens suggest poor management, lack of popper preparation, technical, capacity and operative failure. Despite all the previous promises by IEC, the FEFA have repeatedly warned about the simplification of logistics issues, poor planning and misunderstanding of the process. Unfortunately, the Election Day’s turmoil has cast a shadow over the passionate epic of people and the great devotion of the security forces. We briefly review some of the shortcomings of the process: 1. Failure of biometric system: The voting process was supposed to be done in all of the polling centers using the 22000 biometrics devices, but the biometrics devices have only been applied in some limited polling centers. In addition to the problem of not using the devices in all polling stations, some of the devices have been mistakenly transferred to different stations, the special printer malfunctioned or required a QR code, and the batteries of the devices would hold charge only for a few hours. However, dealing with biometric issue was not alike everywhere, in some areas it let to the shutdown of the polling centers, while in other areas it was ignored and voters’ lists were used. 2. Shortage of materials: In general, all of the provinces have been affected by the shortage or wrong transfer of material packages. The biometrics devices, voters’ lists, journals, markers and ballots have been the most important materials which most centers have experienced their shortages. Non-arrival of the materials has been the most common factor in opening delay for most polling centers. Hundreds of voters have waited for hours behind the shut doors of the polling stations and the only justification they received by the polling stations’ staff was blaming it on the IEC managers and organizers. In some polling centers, due to excessive disruption in the flow of work, people became very anger and the staff of the polling centers had to leave the centers to escape people’s wrath. Shortage of materials was not limited to remote hard terrain provinces. Dozens of polling centers, in the closest geographical distances, without any security or physical obstacles remained closed for several hours or did not open at all. The wrong transfer of materials is another common issue that has disrupted the voting process. For example, the voter’s list of Ghorian district of Herat province has been transferred to Waras district of Bamyan province, and biometrics devices of Farah province have transfer to some sub-districts of Kabul. 3. Delay: According to observers and media reports, senior citizens were at the gates of the polling centers at 7:00 am, but only a few centers began to work at the designated time. The long delay in the opening of many centers, in addition to creating serious trouble for the voters in line, caused a general frustration, reduction in the number of voters and disfranchise. Extending polling hours, of course, could not fully compensate for this defect, since in most areas, waiting in the queue after dark was difficult due to the lack of electricity and cold weather. 4. Not publishing the voters’ list: According to Article 72 of the Election Law, it is necessary to install voters’ list at the polling stations few days prior to the election, in order to provide the grounds for evaluation of the list and the protests of the plaintiff citizens. But the commission did not do this. Eventually, it resulted in slowness in the polling process, severe disorder when finding names and created long queues outside the polling center. In addition, in many cases the voters’ lists that were made available to the commission staff have been incomplete. In some of the centers, names have not been listed in a special alphabetical order, some names were not found in the existing alphabetical list, or the number on the stickers was different from the ones on the list. Many people had to visit several places to find their name, but eventually, they left the center with despair and without voting. The pre-review of voters’ list could have prevented the disorder from occurring. 5. Threats to Staff Security: A large portion of the temporary IEC staff has been selected from among teachers or civil servant employees and in some parts of the country; these people faced high-security threats. It was necessary for the Commission to identify vulnerable neighborhoods and to coordinate with the security agencies for the protection of these individuals. Unfortunately, as expected, the commission staffs were directly threatened in a number of areas and are likely to face a security constraint in the future. In addition to long-term threats, unfortunately, yesterday's security incidents have also inflected the casualties to observers. 6. Violations of impartiality by IEC staff: The commission staffs in a number of centers have obviously favored a particular candidate. Using a biometric device for a group brought by a particular candidate to the center and refusing to use it for other people, giving priority to certain individuals during the polling, not paying attention to their documents, permitting direct and indirect campaigning for certain candidates are examples of violations of impartiality the IEC staff committed which have were observed in a number of centers. Some employees, because of their family affiliation with a number of candidates, have endangered the Commission's impartiality principle. 7. Influence / Interventions of power brokers: Direct observation by FEFA observers suggests that in some polling centers, local influencers and irresponsible gunmen have been threatened voters to vote for a particular candidate. In a number of centers, the distribution of money on Election Day in favor of a particular candidate has been witnessed. Contrary to the principle of competition and free choice, a number of citizens have been affected by the influence and threat of particular groups or been deprived of their right to vote. 8. Prevention of observation: In many cases, security forces or Commission staff have prevented the presence of FEFA observers and other civil society organizations, political groups and candidates’ observers. This is a clear violation of the law and a factor in increasing the likelihood of fraud. In some centers, observers have been expelled from the polling stations by force and with grievance. This prevention has taken place in both polling and counting process. In a number of cases, observers and monitors have been told that the ballot boxes will be opened and counted tomorrow, but an hour after the departure of observers from the polling place the votes have been counted. This indicates the lack of proper communication to the security authorities and the lack of training of the Commission staff. 9. Lack of balance in the number of Candidate Observers: A number of candidates have appointed several observers at a center and have not been prevented by the Commission's staff. This number sometimes reaches 10 to 20 observers for a candidate in one polling center. While a number of other candidates have been told that they have the right to introduce only 100 observers in total. This, in addition to the violation of balance and fairness, has paved the way for irregularity and chaos. In some centers, the number of observers has been more than the number of voters and contributed to an increase in irregularities and maladministration. 10. Defect in the ballot profile: A sample ballot was issued prior to the election for public awareness and candidate screenings, but on the Election Day it became clear that in some provinces the name, electoral symbol or photo of some candidates have been changed. For this reason, a number of supporters of the candidates have not been able to vote for that individual candidate. 11. The Weakness of operation control chamber: The Independent Election Commission (IEC) operating chamber lacked the capacity to manage this complex process. At the very early hours of the day, it became clear that the Commission was unable to resolve the problems. The follow-up cases and the immediate report which was sent to the commission showed that the commission had not taken any further steps to resolve the problem. The FEFA organization and other civil and political institutions have proposed and made recommendations to the Commission on better management and more detailed planning, but the Commission ignored the prospect of possible challenges and did not prepare enough for the prospect. Lack of preparation for emergency situations experienced during election process, could become a useful lesson for the future planning of the Commission, but unfortunately it hurt this election which people awaited for, for years. 12. One-day illegal prolongation of the process: Extension of the electoral process for the second day is explicitly against the paragraph (1), Article 84 of the Election Law, and increases the probability of fraud and corruption. Although the current situation is against the practice, the Commission needs to take the necessary measures to protect the citizens' votes and prevent fraud in the second day, vote count and transferring votes and execute them decisively. 13. Delay in counting votes: in accordance with law, vote count in polling stations must start immediately after the end of the voting period, and the results of votes should be registered and copies of them should be given to observers and placed at the polling station. Yesterday evening, unfortunately, in many neighborhoods, the counting of votes has not taken place and was postponed to the second day. Due to the possibility of fraud and theft, this is illegal and extremely alarming. 14. Fraud: Unfortunately, there have been many opportunities for committing fraud. The polling procedure recommends that the commission staff shall show the empty ballot boxes to the observers before voting begins so that everyone can be sure of their emptiness. Unfortunately, the prohibition of monitoring in some polling stations has increased the likelihood of fraud. In a number of other centers, the ballot boxes contained ballot papers before the start of the polling, which is clearly against the law and explicit fraud. Although the reports that came to us have not yet been fully validated, cases of filling ballot boxes away from the eyes of observers and transfer them to polling centers have been reported. Another element that provides fraud is the unregistered names of voters. Discrepancies in the biometrics, the voter list, or the secondary list containing the sticker codes provide the grounds for voting with fake stickers. This is generally facilitated by a number of influential candidates. Now it's virtually impossible to trace who has voted because the voters’ list is incomplete in many centers, the biometric device contains only a fraction of the information, and the secondary list is not the main basis for voting. This paves the way for illegal voting and there is no technical mechanism for tracking voters and linking them to those people who had previously registered. In the end, considering the above cases, what the Independent Election Commission can do now is to prevent the spread of fraud and protect the safety of the ballot boxes. These boxes contain ballots and must be transferred to the commission's office and stored in the database as soon as possible. This reduces the likelihood of future fraud and prevents further invalidity of the process. Also, the received complaints regarding serious cases must be responded by the IEC. Citizens' complaints, protests, and reports by observers reveal issues that, if not addressed, will undermine the credibility of the whole process. On the other hand, attempts to revive people's confidence can reduce the effects of disability and maladministration. Otherwise, beside the fact that the great process of elections will be put into question and the country's political stability will be undermined, it will further affect the credibility and performance of the commission. Along with the incapacity and poor performance of the IEC administration, the ECC also did not do well to monitor and receive complaints. They failed in providing complaint forms which is a simple task and does not require a complicated planning or extensive logistics. In most polling stations, plaintiffs were not able to get complaint forms from the representatives of the Electoral Complaints Commission. In many cases, people were told to write their complaints on plain white paper, while according to the law; only complaints will be tracked and processed that use official channel and standard forms and specifications. To compensate for this, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) needs to provide facilities to complaints of all citizens, observers, and candidates during the statutory period. In addition, addressing the complaints must be prompt, serious, and accurate in order to heal part of the effects of yesterday's and today's mismanagement. We call on candidates, observers, political parties and citizens of the country to present the relevant complaints to the commissions with evidence and documents. This, on one hand, is the right of the plaintiffs and on the other hand the right of citizens, also it helps to protect people’s votes and democracy. Although the polling is officially ending today, the election process is not over. Handling of complaints, vote counting and announcement of the results are another important issue requiring the attention, precision and determination of the authorities of the commissions. We urge the commissioners and all the involved entities to proceed with the next steps with clarity and decisiveness in order to properly carry out the mission of maintaining and expanding democracy in the country. Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA)
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