Paul | 10.10.2004 08:58 | Oxford
UN Messes up Afghan Elections
Very few anticipated the Afghan elections to be completely free and fair. Only 200 international observers confined to the eight regional centres and the lack of security meant that the elections were not going to be particularly democratic. Most also realized that the elections were coming too soon for Afghanistan and were to satisfy Bush’s election ambitions. However, few predicted that the UN would make such a mess. The answer to multiple registrations was people can register a number of times and obtain a few registration cards but they will only be able to vote once because their hands will be marked with indelible ink which will last two weeks. In reality a lot of the indelible ink lasts a few minutes. I phoned an Afghan friend that said yes all his family has voted but, ‘the indelible pen does not seem to be good quality and comes off with a little water’. I called an international working for the elections who explained the cause of the problem. The electoral training department asked the UN procurement department for a certain type of indelible ink in a bottle which people put their thumb in. This ink if let to dry for 30 seconds seems to be quite indelible. Unfortunately there was some miss communication and procurement ordered indelible ink pens. When this was discovered the indelible ink in a bottle was also ordered. So there were two types of indelible ink. The one in the form of a marker pen does not seem too indelible. This problem is exasperated by polling station staff not being trained in both methods and the indelible pens being very similar to the black markers used to mark the ballot papers. As a result some have been using ordinary marker pens to mark people’s thumbs. This is especially the case where polling station staff have been trained to use the indelible marker and then find they have a pot of ink. Some are ignoring the pot of ink and using ordinary black markers used for marking ballot papers.
The problems seem to be poor communication in the UN and local polling station staff being inadequately trained, probably due to the rush to have the elections before the American elections and the low standard of many international trainers and logistic officers. I can not understand some of them so the youths translating for them to national staff are going to inevitably give some incorrect information. Many are just incapable of doing the job and/or do not care as long as they are getting their salary and the blame can not be put on them. The result remains to be seen but it seems to invalidate elections which were always going to have dubious validity. In their first universal franchise elections the Afghan people have been cheated by having to follow an American timetable and UN incompetence.
Friends who have been visiting polling stations tell me that there are other problems such as lack of ballot papers. One polling station in a Hazara (third largest ethnic group) area of Kabul ran out of ballot papers. With the degree of suspicion in Afghanistan conspiracy is automatically presumed in such situations. Another polling station ran out of any kind of ink so people had to wait while inadequate logistic personnel brought it. The Taliban did not need to disrupt the elections; the UN managed it for them. Now with 15 presidential candidates calling the election void and the people feeling cheated and angry with the UN it remains to be seen what happens. Instead of bombs there could easily be a riot.
Official line is that it was the use of incorrect pens and an application of the ink problem and that was sorted out quickly so it has not had much effect on the result. So if Kharzai had a large margin then it can be claimed that the ink problem made little difference.