Afghan voter registration marred

Taking Part: An Afghan official photographed a police officer for his voter ID card at the registration office in Parwan Province. Registration got under way in October.
Rafig Maqbool/AP
Insecurity and charges of fraud could hamper election offiocials’ ability to ensure popular acceptance of next year’s presidential poll results.

By Anand Gopal | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the December 24, 2008 edition

Evidence of fraud and poor security conditions are raising concerns that next fall’s presidential elections could be compromised.

With Afghans scheduled to go to the polls in less than a year, the country’s Independent Elections Commission (IEC) is in the midst of a massive voter registration drive that will continue until early February. Election officials are watching registration numbers closely because low registration could delay or derail the presidential polls.

The IEC is reporting high turnouts across the country since the drive began in October, despite insurgent threats to kill anyone who registers. Many parts of the south and east are under insurgent control.

But evidence is emerging that the registration numbers are inflated by illegal practices, such as registration of lists of “phantom voters” and those under legal voting age. Lawmakers and an elections watchdog allege that such violations are widespread and could undermine the vote’s fairness.

The allegations come at a time when the incoming Obama administration has pledged to increase America’s focus on Afghanistan. In addition to sending in thousands of additional troops in 2009, officials cite strengthening the fledgling democracy and building strong governance as key policy goals in the coming years.

A questionable or fraudulent election could weaken the Afghan government and its allies as well as strengthen the Taliban’s hand. “This would undermine the legitimacy of whoever is elected president next year,” says Habibullah Rafeh, policy analyst with the Afghan Academy of Sciences.

Allegations of fraud are backed by evidence of irregularities in various provinces. In northern Baghlan Province, for instance, some students below the legal voting age claim that election officials issued them registration cards. “A lot of us took cards, even though we were underage,” says area resident Habibullah Sherzai. Another resident, Kabiri, says, “I know many youths who got registration cards. Some of my friends even have two cards.”

In southeastern Paktia Province, election officials claim that almost twice as many women have registered than men