Afghanistan fraud charges ‘may jeopardize democratic transition’

 

Credit:NDI

Credit:NDI

Afghanistan‘s presidential election has been plunged into crisis after one candidate demanded a halt to vote counting, suspended cooperation with election authorities and called for a UN commission to mediate over “blatant fraud”, The Guardian reports:

It was an unexpectedly strong challenge to an election that had initially been celebrated as a qualified success, with high turnout in both the first round and a 14 June run-off, despite Taliban threats and violence.

Former foreign minister and mujahideen doctor Abdullah Abdullah had already signalled that he was unhappy about preliminary turnout figures for the second round, and wary of large leaps in voter numbers in the strongholds of his rival Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank technocrat.

The Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA) spokesman Fahim Naime called on the electoral commissions and presidential candidates not to harm the election process, Deutsche Welle reports.

“We call on the IEC and Abdullah Abdullah to resolve this issue as soon as possible, because as time passes the crisis deepens. If it continues this way, we might reach a point where the commissions won’t be able to resolve these problems,” Naim told DW. He also called on the IEC to take steps in order to restore trust with Abdullah Abdullah.

“In the meantime the candidates should respect the votes of the people and not take such actions that can harm the election process,” Naime said.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, says in a DW interview Abdullah has made a dramatic accusation while presenting no substantive evidence. In order to uphold the integrity of the electoral process, Kugelman adds, Afghan election officials probably won’t start to investigate these allegations until the vote counting process has concluded.

An election observer mission from the US-based National Democratic Institute [a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy] concluded two days after the poll that “the problems it observed did not appear to be widespread or systematic”.

RTWT

Proposed Ukraine referendums violate international law

ukrainesolidarnoscThe proposed referendums on the independence of two parts of eastern Ukraine announced by armed separatist groups violate the tenets of international law as well as Ukraine’s constitution, regardless of their timing, says a leading democracy assistance group.

Under the circumstances of coercion, armed occupation of government offices and violence, a referendum, regardless of its outcome, would lack legitimacy and broad public acceptance within Ukraine and by the international community, the National Democratic Institute said today:

In neither of these two Ukrainian oblasts do the separatists have a representative mandate from the populations and, to the contrary, several public opinion polls in April reported that the majority of those populations do not support the separatists’ actions and do not believe that the rights of the Russian-speaking population are being violated. Whether or not the separatists have the ability to print ballots and organize polling stations, such referendums would breach precepts of international law and undermine international relations based on respect for the territorial integrity of states.

Some analysts said Mr. Putin was hedging against the inability of insurgents to pull off a successful ballot measure, The New York Times reports.

 “They control dozens of buildings, but not the entire territory, and don’t have the administrative capacity to organize a vote,” said Michael McFaul, who until earlier this year served as the United States ambassador in Russia. “Moreover, polls show that a free and fair election there would not produce support for splitting with Ukraine.”

Download the NDI statement. 

Libya’s ‘unexpected strength’

Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

Libya remains in deep chaos. Various militias are competing for political and economic power, carrying out attacks and otherwise buffeting the fragile government, say two leading experts.

Work on a new Constitution has only recently started, well over a year later than envisioned in the political blueprint that was drawn up as the civil war ended in October 2011, Dartmouth College’s Dirk Vandewalle and researcher Nicholas Jahr write for The New York Times:

This is a shame because, despite severe security issues and other debilitating weaknesses, Libya these days has one unexpected strength: Most of its people agree on major issues that are often hopelessly divisive, like minority rights, Islam and federalism.

Polling by the University of Benghazi early last year suggested that a solid 55 percent of the population favored granting some form of recognition to languages other than Arabic, including the long-silenced ones spoken by the Amazigh and the Tebu, two minority groups. According to a study by the National Democratic Institute published last November, a majority of Libyans supported reserving seats for women and ethnic minorities in the constitutional assembly (and some seats were, in fact, set aside for those groups).

Other reports last year by the National Democratic Institute [a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy] and the University of Benghazi indicated that an overwhelming majority of Libyans believed Shariah, the legal code of Islam based on the Quran, should be enshrined in the new Constitution as a source of legislation (though not the only one). And while many Libyans, particularly in the east, support some degree of decentralization, they favor a centralized state over full-on federalism or any far-reaching devolution of power to the provinces.

“Libya faces fiendishly difficult problems, but there is at least one tangible issue that could be fixed fairly easily,” they contend. “Reforming current electoral rules would close the gap between the people and their leaders, and make good on an enviable asset that is rare in such fragile countries: a popular consensus on major issues that transcends cleavages over smaller ones.”

RTWT

Dirk Vandewalle is an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College. Nicholas Jahr is a freelance researcher and reporter.

Iraq’s April 30 Elections: Consolidating Democratic Gains or Cementing Sectarian Divides?

iraq-event-elections-event-1

Later this month, Iraqis will go to the polls to elect new members of the Council of Representatives, the country’s legislative body, as well as members of provincial assemblies in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Preparations for the April 30 elections have been turbulent to date, with looming questions regarding the ability of displaced Iraqis to participate in the polls; the controversial disqualification of certain candidates; and the now-rescinded resignation of the commissioners of the Independent High Electoral Commission, the body charged with organizing the polls. Sectarian rhetoric and ethnic appeals have also characterized the campaign messages of certain candidates and party coalitions.

Amid sharpening sectarian divisions and an increasingly precarious security environment, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) present a panel of experts to share their perspectives on Iraq’s national elections, and what they mean for the country’s democratic development.NDI recently conducted a nationwide pre-election poll to gauge citizen perspectives on prospects for peaceful elections; anticipated voter participation rates and shifts in partisan support; and longer-term issues such as perceived improvements or declines in cross-cutting issues such as security, basic service provision, employment and education. The results reveal distinct regional divides and opinions on the country’s state of play ahead of these critical elections.

NDI’s Iraq-based Resident Director, Elvis Zutic, will discuss the poll’s key findings and his views on the country’s political, electoral and security contexts. Discussants will complement his assessment with analyses of the importance of these elections, and how the outcome of the polls will impact Iraq’s broader development progress and its relationships with regional and international actors.

Featured Speakers:

Elvis Zutic Resident Director, NDI Iraq

Sarhang Hamasaeed Senior Program Officer, Middle East and North Africa Programs, USIP

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad Former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations Counselor, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Manal Omar, Moderator Associate Vice President for the Middle East and Africa, USIP

RSVP

Afghan elections ‘vindicate investments and sacrifices’, suggest waning Karzai influence

afghanpollwikicommons

After enduring Taliban attacks and security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of the weekend’s presidential election, as officials offered solid indications that the vote far exceeded expectations, The New York Times reports:

Two senior officials from the Independent Election Commission said the authorities supervising the collection of ballots in tallying centers had counted between seven million and 7.5 million total ballots, indicating that about 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters had taken part in the election. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because results will not be released for weeks.

“This has been the best and most incident-free election in Afghanistan’s modern history and it could set the precedent for a historic, peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Fahim Sadeq, head of the Afghanistan National Participation Organization, an observer group.

Former World Bank executive Ashraf Ghani and opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah appeared to be the two front-runners in Afghanistan’s presidential election, sidelining a candidate viewed as President Hamid Karzai’s favorite, according to partial results tallied by news organizations and one candidate, The Wall Street Journal reports:

A victory for Mr. Abdullah or Mr. Ghani could significantly reduce the influence of Mr. Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Both candidates say they will sign the bilateral security agreement, which is needed to maintain American aid and a limited U.S. military presence in Afghanistan once the international coalition’s current mandate expires in December. Mr. Karzai has infuriated Washington by refusing to complete the deal.

Graeme Smith, a Kabul-based analyst at the International Crisis Group, said he expected the election to end in a cordial runoff.

“All of the candidates have a deep vested interest in the stability of the Afghan state,” he said. “Though they may rock the boat, they won’t capsize it.”

“I am genuinely encouraged,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington who recently visited Kabul. “The high turnout, modest levels of violence, and good performance of the Afghan army and police are all genuine good-news stories,” he said by e-mail yesterday.

The election was a repudiation of the Taliban. Violence in the run-up to the voting backfired, notes Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.

“Each attack aimed at discouraging participation seemed to encourage even more people to register. Taliban efforts to intimidate communities at the local level also failed,” he writes for The National Interest. “Even in Pashtun areas in the east and south, turnout was high. With their cause and methods rejected, the armed opposition will undertake needed soul searching,” says Khalilzad, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

Afghan electoral institutions performed well. More so than in previous years, the international community operated largely in a supporting role as Afghans took the lead in conducting elections. Although there were reports of ballot shortages in some polling stations, voting, from an administrative standpoint, went remarkably smoothly. …………..Afghan security institutions were effective. Though some stations remained closed for security reasons, Taliban efforts to disrupt voting produced no major security incidents across the country. Afghans’ confidence in security institutions has increased, portending, perhaps, a new level of trust that could suppress the insurgency.

The National Democratic Institute today underlined the need for observers to follow the tallying and complaints process to help ensure the integrity of the April 5 presidential and provincial elections:

Since the margins among the contestants may be slim and a small number of votes may affect the outcome, it is critical that observers follow the tallying and complaints process closely, NDI said. In a preliminary statement, NDI said a final assessment be made only after the electoral institutions had completed their activities.

NDI fielded an observer delegation of 101 Afghan staff members who visited 327 polling stations in 26 provinces. Many of them helped prepare 46,000 candidate and political party polling agents in the lead-up to the elections.

The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan said ballot counting had begun after voting was extended by an hour.

“Out of 7 million, around 35 percent of them were Afghan women, a great signal to practice democracy,” IEC Chairman Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani said yesterday in Kabul, adding that the turnout was more than twice that of the 2009 elections.

The fact that the election wasn’t disrupted by violence — only 3 percent of polling stations closed for security reasons — isn’t a guarantee the rest of the electoral process will be smooth, said Martine van Bijlert of the Afghan Analysts Network.

“There are still credible reports of fraud from the areas that are difficult to monitor and from where news travels slowly,” said Van Bijlert, co-director of the nonprofit policy group based in Kabul. “And we might still see a very contested count.”

But so far, the election vindicates the large investments and sacrifices of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad asserts:

The Afghan people rose to the occasion, creating an environment of hope and expectation. This presents the country, particularly the new President, with an opportunity to build on the positive achievements of the last 12 years. By resisting the temptation for a winner-take-all approach and including the losing candidates and/or their supporters, the new administration can build a national consensus behind the reforms necessary to advance peace building, economic development, the rule of law, and anti-corruption efforts.