ANFREL: Government Assets Used in Wolesi Jirga Polls

KABUL - Strong and resourceful candidates, expropriating government assets and machinery, attempted to influence Saturday's Wolesi Jirga elections, an observer group alleged on Wednesday. Threats, violence and money were widely acknowledged as an effective strategy to win the electoral battle, preventing many candidates from contest the polls freely, said the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL).

ANFREL deployed 30 short-term observers from 11 countries to Kabul, Parwan, Panjsher, Kapisa, Bamyan, Badakhshan, Baghlan, Balkh, Jawzjan, Herat and Nangarhar provinces from September 12-25.

Women and minority groups became the obvious victims of unfair electoral practices, including intimidation from militants, government officials and candidates, the network said in its interim report. "Ironically, not too many reports have been filed as those who are victimized by the system, particularly women candidates are of the opinion that there would be no solution and complaints or reports from them may only worsen the problem," it added. With no limit on regulation for the campaign finance, the wealthy runners launched their campaign by utilizing mainstream and alternative media, while the average candidates normally had problems in competing against them, the group observed. Amid reports of distribution of gifts to woo voters, the network called for a thoroughgoing probe into the use of fake voter cards.

There have been instances of voters and powerful people (candidate agents, village and tribal chiefs) attempting to use fake cards. Identifying the quality of ink as a major concern, ANFREL claimed it could be rubbed off within minutes after being applied to voter fingers. Despite violence, fraud and irregularities, which marred the elections, the group said the processes so far had been a major factor in Afghanistan's democratic transition.

It noted the polling process started late in many polling stations due to different factors, such as administrative letups, technical and logistic snags. A number of polling centers opened 30-60 minutes late.

In Jawzjan and Bamyan, polling centers did not start voting in time owing to incomplete materials. Faulty punchers and lack of proper logistics led many voters, especially farmers in some provinces, to return to their fields.

In many polling stations, ANFREL said, punchers failed to work, forcing polling officials to use scissors to chop off one edge of the voter card. "Another fundamental problem was the sloppiness displayed by polling officials in checking voter identity such as the voter face, especially in female polling stations, creating an opportunity for multiple voting."

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