Afghanistan - 09 October 2009 Presidential Election
The Afghan Constitution specifically tasks the Election Commission with holding presidential polls at least a month before the end of the president's term in office on 22 May 2009, leading to expectations of an April 2009 vote. Following extensive consultations, in February 2009 the Independent Election Commission cited the country's dismal security situation, lack of funding, and harsh weather conditions in remote areas as the reasons for pushing the presidential vote to 20 August 2009.
Presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah rose from virtually nothing to prominence during the elections. Abdullah entered the presidential election against Karzai with limited name recognition, a reputation as an elitist whose family resides in India, and as a pro-Panjshiri Tajik -- all of which restricted his ability to run a strong national campaign. However, Abdullah rose to prominence during the campaigns, proving himself as a rational leader, and in particular, astutely managing his international image and campaign.
Incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, both claimed victory ahead of the official verdict. After completing an audit and recount process that affected more than 3,300 polling stations nationwide, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) invalidated nearly one million votes from the first-round election held in August, leaving incumbent Karzai with a final tally of 48.3 percent, just short of the constitutionally mandated 50 percent. Election officials scheduled a run-off for November 7. On November 1, Abdullah withdrew from the race, demanding major changes to guard against repetition of the reported widespread fraud in the August vote. Election officials declared President Karzai the winner.
International observers and civil society groups documented widespread instances of fraud, including ballot stuffing, ghost polling stations, and interference by staff of the IEC; fraud was especially notable in areas with high levels of insecurity, and insufficient female electoral staff and female election observers. Security arrangements were inadequate in many locations, and numerous irregularities occurred, including pervasive intimidation of voters and candidates, especially women. From August 20 through October 25, the ECC received approximately 2,800 complaints of electoral irregularities, of which 850 had the potential to affect the results of the presidential election, and 650 had a potential effect on provincial council elections. After conducting initial investigations, on September 8, the ECC ordered a nationwide audit and recount. Using a sampling method agreed upon by the ECC and the IEC, the IEC audited a sample of 300 polling stations nationwide and found that 58 to 96 percent of votes were invalid. After analyzing the complaints related to the presidential election, the ECC invalidated the results of 3,400 voting stations and found clear and convincing evidence of fraud at 1,900 other stations. According to the ECC, final numbers for voter turnout could only be estimated; approximately 1.2 million votes were invalidated from 4.5 million votes cast.
According to UNIFEM, of the 4.5 million newly registered voters, approximately 38 percent were female, although percentages could not be confirmed because there was no voter list. Both under- and over-registration of women were reported. Insecure access to registration stations and the lack of female staff led to underregistration. In some provinces local IEC officials ignored the physical presence requirement, issuing voter identity cards for women whose male family members registered them in absentia; 13 provinces where this practice was widespread showed higher-than-average rates of female registration. Women voted in separate polling stations from men, yet the lack of sufficient numbers of female election workers hindered women's participation. At some voting sites, women were turned away for lack of available female workers. There was evidence that men also proxy-voted on behalf of women in many cases, as occurred in 2004 and 2005.
Insurgents targeted civilians and election officials in a campaign to disrupt national elections. Insurgents killed 31 civilians, including 11 IEC officials, and injured 50, in at least 135 separate incidents of IEDs, small-arms clashes, and rocket and mortar attacks on election day. The UN reported there were as many as 300 such incidents. Night letters and direct threats were reported countrywide, including the threat to cut off fingers marked with voting ink. Some schools identified as polling places received threatening letters. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reported that on election day, Taliban insurgents attacked at least 26 schools used as polling places. Insurgents attacked a school in Paktya province the night before the elections as well as a secondary school in the Zormat district in Paktya on election day because it was used as a polling site. Also in Paktya, insurgents fired rockets at two madrassas serving as polling centers. In addition, insurgents fired two missiles at a school being used as a polling center. There were with no casualties.
After a contentious and fraud-marred election, Karzai conceded the need for a second round because his vote total was less than 50 percent of the valid votes cast. President Karzai accepted - grudgingly - that nearly a million of his initial votes had to be thrown out as fraudulent. Nonetheless, he has never publicly apologized or disassociated himself from those who committed fraud on his behalf. Abdullah, the closest presidential challenger, withdrew 01 November 2009 from the second round of elections.
President Karzai took his second oath of office on 19 November 2009. After a contentious and fraud-marred election, some question Karzai's legitimacy but he still enjoyed the broad acceptance of the Afghan people. In conceding the need for a second round because his vote total was less than 50 percent of the valid votes cast, President Karzai accepted - grudgingly - that nearly a million of his initial votes had to be thrown out as fraudulent. Nonetheless, he never publicly apologized or disassociated himself from those who committed fraud on his behalf.
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