News - Election 2014
Speaking at a press conference in Kabul on Monday, Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the Chairman of the Independent Elections Commission (IEC), rejected allegations that Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, the IEC Chief Electoral Officer, was involved in fraud during Saturday's runoff.
Amarkhail was implicated in vote rigging on Election Day when his staff was stopped by police leaving the IEC's headquarters in Kabul with cars loaded with unused ballots. Kabul Chief of Police General Zahir Zahir was the first to accuse the senior election official of misconduct, and a joint commission was formed of IEC and Ministry of Interior (MoI) officials to investigate the matter.
But on Sunday night the stakes were raised when presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah delivered an impassioned speech on national television in which he said he would not accept the results of Saturday's election unless Amarkhail is suspended and a full investigation into his possible involvement in electoral fraud is conducted.
The weighty accusations Abdullah made at his press conference were almost entirely directed at the IEC. He said there was "endemic fraud" during the election process, and suggested members of the IEC were involved.
On Monday, Nuristani came to Amarkhail's defense and called the entire incident a "misunderstanding", despite having just the day before advised the public to reserve judgement on the matter until the investigation was complete.
"We don't have any evidence to dismiss Amarkhail," Nuristani asserted. "If Dr. Abdullah has evidence against Amarkhail, he should send it to the IEC."
The IEC Chairman went on to retell the same story Amarkhail had provided to explain his actions on Election Day. "The election materials were in 16 boxes, eight of which were being transferred in two vehicles to Sarobi district, but were waiting for a police escort," Nuristani said. "The residents of Sarobi were protesting because of ballot shortages."
Nuristani offered to have international observers also investigate the Amarkhail incident.
Much of the suspicion surrounding Amarkhail's actions stem from a broader concern of many that there was a significant amount of fraud during Saturday's election. The IEC's announcement that over seven million votes were cast in the runoff surprised experts who estimated the turnout to be far lower than the first round.
During his press conference on Sunday night, Abdullah questioned the IEC's seven million figure. "We will not accept results from provinces where the turnout was higher than the amount of eligible voters," he said.
The head of the Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA) called on the responsible institutions to address the demand of Dr. Abdullah seriously and investigate the issue so that the legitimacy of the national process is not questioned.
"It is a sensitive national process, when a candidate doubts the election commission staff," FEFA Chairman, Nadir Naderi said. "Legally, he is allowed to table his complaint and both commissions are responsible in addressing the issue."
However, the IEC chief clearly stated at the press conference that he rejects the claims made against Amarkhail and announced it as a misunderstanding. In counter of this, former chief of the election commission, Fazel Ahmad Manavi, believes that this "misunderstanding" is a mistake and believes those responsible who are silent in regards to investigating the crime is an offense in and of itself and could lead the country into a crisis.
"An individual is not a big issue, but a national process is very important," Manavi said. "Why must the public trust on the national process decrease? If a person has done something that has raised questions on a national stage, undoubtedly, would have a great impact on the stability of Afghanistan, the security and its future and economy of the country because this action is great sin."
Manavi continued to say that, "the Afghan people and security forces rendered heavy sacrifices for the process, fingers of people were cut off and several Afghan military personnel lost their lives for this practice. The issue must be addressed; otherwise, it would be a national treason."
The IEC has said preliminary results from Saturday's election will be announced on July 2. However, it is expected that partial results will be released before then.
According to Nuristani, result sheets from Kabul, Panjshir, Parwan, Kapisa, Logar and Baghlan provinces have reached the IEC's central auditing center. Those from Paktia, Kunar, Nangarhar, Laghman and Wardak are expected to arrive soon.
"The auditing center formally started work and will conduct its duties with fairness and transparency in front of domestic and international observers," Nuristani said on Monday. He said the commission had learned important lessons from the first round, and urged the presidential candidates not to undermine its credibility.
"Our expectations from the politicians are that they not harm the credibility of this national process," the IEC Chairman said. "The IEC and our commissioners strive for impartiatlity and independence and they are neutral, so the politicians must avoid comments that could harm the commission and should not raise questions about its credibility."