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Violence, Turnout, Fraud Remain Top Concerns in Afghan Election Efforts

September 20, 2010 at 6:16 PM EDT
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Gwen Ifill speaks with election observer Scott Worden about the latest vote in Afghanistan and concerns about violence, fraud and low turnout.

GWEN IFILL: For more on how these latest elections unfolded, I spoke earlier today with Scott Worden in Kabul. He was in Kabul as an election observer for the National Democratic Institute. In last year’s presidential voting, he served on the Electoral Complaints Commission.

Scott Worden, thank you for joining us. Tell us what you saw this weekend during the voting.

SCOTT WORDEN, Afghanistan election observer: Well, I was stationed in Kabul as an observer. And I visited about 10 different stations throughout the city, some in more rural areas, some right in the heart of town.

And, in the polling stations that I saw, there were relatively few problems. There were plenty of voters. The procedures went along smoothly. And, really, people were out to vote and were — seemed to be happy with the process.

GWEN IFILL: So, how was the turnout? I have heard reports that turnout was supposed to be considered spotty?

SCOTT WORDEN: Yes, I think that’s true. Certainly, the areas that I was seeing had good security. They were right around Kabul, and there were very visible police presence throughout the city. And, so, it is not surprising that the turnout was relatively good. I think most of the polling stations we saw were at least half-full.

However, as you know, the security situation in much of the country throughout the country was a lot worse. And that had a significant impact on turnout. And I think that turnout can be expected to be very low in places that had a lot of conflict.

GWEN IFILL: You talk about the security situation. There were reports of many people killed in different places around the country. Did you hear back from the people you talked to today that that was what was expected, or was it more than expected, or less?

SCOTT WORDEN: Well, everybody was a bit apprehensive about what polling day would bring in terms of security. Last year, there was a huge amount of violence. It was the most violent day in Afghanistan since 2001 intervention.

The hope was, of course, that this would be better. There was better planning for security, and, hopefully, the local races, with local political players being elected, would have a positive impact on reducing the violence. Unfortunately, from the reports that have come in so far, it seems like there was about the same level of violence this year, if not a little bit more.

So, it is a disappointment, but people, given the negative trends in securities over the course of the year, thought could happen.

GWEN IFILL: But at least a million fewer voters. At least they were saying 3.6 million voters this time, and it was 5.5 million voters last year.

SCOTT WORDEN: Yes, it’s always difficult to calculate voters in Afghanistan, because, of course, last year, while there was a high initial count, there was a significant amount of fraud. And millions of ballots, about 1.2 million ballots, were ultimately excluded from the presidential election.

So, it’s really difficult to say, without seeing when the results come in, how many real votes there were, either in the last year’s election or in this year’s election. It does, however, seem that turnout was slightly lower.

GWEN IFILL: You mentioned fraud. What evidence have we seen this year of fraud, fake voting cards, proxy voting?

SCOTT WORDEN: Yes, fake voting cards was the story that was being discussed most often in the Afghan media and by voters in advance of the elections. There are lots of stories about forged cards being produced in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

And we heard reports that this was true on Election Day as well. On the other hand, we heard reports about people being arrested for having fake cards, and that election workers were turning people away. So, I think that that is a story that is not as big as was feared.

On the other hand, we are hearing complaints about ballot box stuffing, which was a huge problem last year. And there’s also complaints about intimidation. So, obviously, there was a lot of violence generally on Election Day, but that people were scared away from the polls or were influenced to vote for certain candidates in areas that had poor security.

I think that we won’t really know the magnitude, however, of all of these fraud allegations until the IEC releases the preliminary results and we understand from the ECC, the Elections Complaint Commission, how many complaint these received and what they are doing to investigate it.

GWEN IFILL: You talk about these governmental watchdog groups, the Independent Election Commission, The Electoral Complaints Commission. Do we know that they are poised to do something about these allegations? We have heard about vote-buying, something as outright as that.

SCOTT WORDEN: That’s true. The Independent Election Commission, which is responsible for administering the elections and tabulating the results, was severely criticized last year for its role in not preventing fraud and not addressing it after the election occurred. That has had some management changes at the top that I think are very positive.

And there’s a lot more optimistic that they will be more proactive, more transparent, and more responsible in dealing with the fraud this time around. The Election Complaints Commission used to have three international members of it, on which I was a part. That is now an all-Afghan-led institution. And we will have to see how well they do in addressing complaints and responding to allegations that the IEC doesn’t address.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s assume for a moment that they clear up all these allegations of fraud. After all is said and done, what is the Parliament’s role in the era of Hamid Karzai? How much power does it have?

SCOTT WORDEN: Well, that’s really an interesting question. In the last year since the presidential election, the Parliament started taking some strong positions in opposition to some of Karzai’s appointments and some of his policies. And this was seen by many observers as a good thing.

Parliament had been considered quite weak before. And regardless of what one’s politics are, it’s important for Afghanistan to have balanced government between the executive and the legislative branch.

So, it remains to be seen, from who gets elected, whether there are significant members of what could be considered an opposition. There’s no party system, per se, in Afghanistan, but an opposition grouping to Karzai.

If they are coherent, if they have a strong mandate, because people think the election is credible, then I think they can play a much more active role in — in improving governance in Afghanistan. If, however, there does turn out to be a significant amount of fraud, or if characters that are seen by the public as being — having a bad reputation wind up winning, I could see the Parliament being considered weak and being less effective.

GWEN IFILL: Scott Worden in Kabul, thanks a lot.

SCOTT WORDEN: Thank you.