November 24, 2010 / 1:24 PM / in 9 years

Q+A: What went wrong with Afghanistan's election?

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced most of the long-delayed results from a September 18 parliamentary poll on Wednesday, but more candidates were disqualified and protests over fraud continued.

Here are some questions and answers about what has gone wrong with Afghanistan’s election:

WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR?

The election for the 249-seat lower house of parliament, or wolesi jirga, got off to a bad start. Originally scheduled for May, it was postponed until September after international donors, threatening to withhold funding, demanded electoral reforms to avoid a repeat of last year’s fraud-marred presidential vote.

The election went ahead, despite threats from the Taliban,

without any major attacks. At least 17 people were killed on the day. Poor security in many areas meant more than 1,500 polling centers remained closed out of around 6,800 slated to open.

Turnout was also low. The IEC has put the total figure at 5.6 million voters, considerably higher than the 4 million estimated shortly after polling day. Calculating an exact turnout is next to impossible because Afghanistan has no electoral register.

The IEC announced preliminary results on October 20, almost two weeks late, after delays to allow more time for auditing and recounting suspicious votes. While announcing those results, the IEC said it had disqualified nearly a quarter of all votes — 1.3 million — for various reasons including fraud and intimidation.

On Sunday, the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said it had disqualified 21 successful candidates — almost one in 10 — and had finished adjudicating all major complaints. The IEC said on Wednesday another three candidates had been disqualified and announced “final” results for 33 of the 34 provinces, and one for Kuchi nomads. Results for volatile Ghazni, which has 11 allocated seats, have not yet been declared, leaving 238 out of 249 seats declared.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

Thousands of complaints poured in since polling day. The ECC said this month it had received more than 6,000 formal complaints, a third of which could have affected the final outcome. Of those, about 40 percent related to polling irregularities and some 17 percent to violence and intimidation. Other gripes included problems accessing polling sites.

Allegations of fraud have also been leveled against the IEC itself, including senior members in the commission. Two weeks after the election, the IEC said its provincial election chief in eastern Khost province had been arrested over fraud complaints.

Protests by disgruntled candidates and prominent MPs, calling for the election to be annulled, began in Kabul early this month. Among the complaints, they accuse IEC officials of taking tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from winning candidates and having their own votes unfairly tossed out. The IEC on Wednesday ruled out calling another election.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Final results were originally due on October 30 but were delayed while the ECC sifted through the thousands of complaints. On Wednesday, the IEC said it hoped a new parliament would be formed within a week. In the meantime, the 11 sitting lawmakers from Ghazni will remain in place until its votes are decided.

The investigations by the attorney general’s department into IEC officials over fraud allegations made by candidates are continuing. Late on Tuesday, Afghan media reported that spokesmen from the IEC and ECC had been suspended for making statements “against the national interest.” The IEC said the reports were “unfortunate.”

On Wednesday, Abdullah Abdullah, who finished second to Karzai in last year’s presidential vote, said he had the support of 90 elected candidates in the new parliament, raising the possibility of a fresh challenge to Karzai.

HOW WILL ALL THIS AFFECT PRESIDENT KARZAI?

The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the declaration of results and said it backed the decision to delay Ghazni because of security and technical problems. However UNAMA in the past has noted “considerable fraud” took place.

Official reactions from Western capitals will likely be along similar lines. The declaration came four days after NATO leaders wrapped up a summit in Lisbon where Afghanistan was top of the agenda. They agreed to back Karzai’s timeline for Afghan troops to take security responsibility by 2014, but Karzai’s credibility is on the line after two fraud-marred polls in a year.

Karzai’s reputation took a nosedive at home and abroad after more than a third of his votes last year were thrown out as fake. His standing will likely figure largely when U.S. President Barack Obama reviews his Afghanistan war strategy next month.

There is also the issue of his cabinet. Several of his ministries are still being run by caretakers after parliament rejected swathes of his nominations earlier this year. He cannot put forward new nominations until the new parliament is formed.

Editing by Paul Tait and Sugita Katyal

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