VOTER TURNOUT IN LANDMARK POLL IS OVER 50%

Neena Gopal
The Gulf News

Afghanistan's landmark parliamentary and provincial elections may have not only seen a voter turnout as low as 30 per cent in some parts of the country, the EU election observers mission has said the entire electoral system needed an overhaul.
The conflicting percentages may reflect growing embarrassment that an election which cost the UN over $150 million may have only drawn six million people or less to the voting booths.
"Preliminary estimate indicate that voter turnout could be a little over 50 per cent," said Peter Erben, chief electoral officer of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), a day after the Federation for Free and Fair Elections (FEFA) pegged the vote at 50 per cent. Erben said he did not think the low turnout was vastly different from that of other democracies like India and the US where less than 50 per cent vote.
  However, independent observers who did not want to be quoted, said: "in Logar province which has nearly 40,000 registered voters only 2,000 came out to vote".
In the capital Kabul, he said voter turnout picked up later in the evening but was not nearly as brisk as anticipated.
"In major parts of the country we do not believe it was higher than 30 per cent."
Voter apathy may be due to one of two reasons, he said. "The presidential elections were high profile and had one candidate they could concentrate on. In this case, the candidates were a bunch of non-entities. Apart from a handful, nobody knew enough about the candidates to vote for them."
"In addition, we have a lot of unhappy people out there. Four years after the Taliban, the situation in the interior of Afghanistan is the same, there are no roads, there is no water or electricity and no schools."
The other and far more serious criticism of the elections came from the EU Election Observer Mission which was biting in its indictment of the electoral system but scrupulously praised the JEMB for a "well-administered election process".
The mission headed by Emma Bonino, member of the EU parliament, commended the Media Commission for providing free access to candidates to the broadcast media to campaign, but deplored the "notable absence of election related coverage in the mass media".
She said the "numerous reports of intimidation as well as the killing of candidates, clerics and election workers and others" was one of the many shortcomings of the elections as were security problems that impeded campaigning in parts of the country.
"Despite two elections Afghanistan still has no accurate and final voters list," she said, calling for a census to be integrated with a reliable voter register.
Bonino said civic education efforts did not adequately reach voters in remote areas and in minority enclaves, and women remained less informed than male voters.
She slammed the Election Complaints Commission for taking a number of its decisions late in the election process creating problems and uncertainty for election authorities, candidates and voters.
While she did say the ECC was "provided with insufficient resources and investigative capacity", she also pointed out that close to polling day "the ECC had both disqualified candidates who had already been certified on July 12 and then in some cases reinstated them".
Calling for a "cut-off date" she said it was unacceptable that "voters who cast their votes in good faith would have their votes counted as invalid".
Bonino reserved her most stinging criticism for the election system which is based on the Single Non-Transferable Vote system rather than the proportional representation system.
"The election system created significant political and administrative challenges such as a large number of candidates, unwieldy ballot papers etc. It is very weak, and must be reviewed in advance of future elections."
Francesc Vendrell Special Representative of the EU in Afghanistan said he fully backed the views of the statement and called for a full fledged debate on the subject, perhaps in the new parliament.
"No one in Afghanistan is fully aware of the benefits of the representative system means," he said.