Montag, 14. April 2014

Afghan Elections (3): checks and balances

As the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has released its long-awaited first partial results, it is to say that the release of these results is a step towards transparency, responding to a very active civil society and Afghan media all along the past months trying to pave the ground for a more democratic follow up of the voting process. Numerous were the Afghan media who on election day asked their readers and listeners to report signs of fraud or intimidation. together with its parallel twitter and facebook accounts is so far one in a series of interesting social media forums that has established a regular communication with voters, also through call-ins, sensible videos or audios being posted. The task of the Afghan media to seperate truth from intentions of manipulation in this is of course a complex one. In the best case, the agencies network of correspondents in the provinces, try to quickly go after the true-or-false content of any serious allegation posted. Their presence is an asset and has helped independent observers and most likely also the ICE commission to follow up on what is going on in the country. IEC's release of the partial results was preceeded a week ago by the first selective samples of some of the Afghan news agencies, after they had collected traceabe results from selected polling stations throughout most of the provinces. One of these early sample press releases came from Pajhwok Afghan news, an agency that has established itself in the past years, though still struggeling with independent funding and a business model for the years to come, becoming less dependent of international funding. Pajhwok's news release that would finally be published with first sample results on the night from April 4th - election day - to April 5th - was put into form in an interesting process itself. As a collegue from the foreign media, I had the opportunity to follow the intense discussion within the agency's newsroom (see picture) on that day. Its editor in chief, Danish Karokhel and his reporters were working more than an hour to debate on which final wording the press release should take. On the one hand it had to be accurate and sovereign in itself while on the other side not unresponsably provoke public authorities, candidates and a public opinion that up until today is not so much accustomed to the publishing of such samples. Any premature release of figures might in fact be interpreted as taking favour ethnically for one candiate or another or a favor one part of the electorate over another. It took the team of Pajhwok more than an hour to come to a conclusion for a version approved by all. A example of transparency in itself. Though some organisations contested the news release shortly after April 6th , it also became clear that the procedure and accuracy of the finding harvested less harsh reactions than could be expected. In fact, Pajhwoks with its sample findings comes out very close to what the IEC has published now as the first 10 % of votes officially counted. A sign of hope in a process that might so far have seen some new and slowly emerging signs of checks and balances. If you add to this the surveys and polls (though some of them very biased and lacking transparency) in the pre-campaigning phase and during campaigning, it comes down to a list of examples that may lead to a growing role and of media and of the Afghan civil society in an ever more complex voting process.

Sonntag, 6. April 2014

Afghan Elections (2): an enthusiastic vote

„Afghanistan presidential election hit by unexpected problem – too many voters“, the British Guardian writes today, somehow suprised of the way a majority of Afghans defied security and other threats. Some of my coverage on the Afghan election is here and here Under the influence of the killing of German AP-photographer Anja Niedringhaus the day before, few foreign media were present at the voting centers throughout the day. The same goes for international observers: most organisations (NDI, ANFREL, OSCE) withdrew most of their staff or remained confined to their hotel rooms in Kabul or Dubai. I did meet two out of some fifteen EU observers though at a polling center, who were wearing bullet-proof body armour, very much to the contrary of the many thousand of Afghan observers. In fact international observers largely depend on the local networks of Afghan observers, this time even more than in previous elections. Afghan public opion, that is media and social media, have found this election to reach a new level of public awareness, with unprecedented claims of accountability towards the candidates and the political class. The expectation for an 'end to the culture of corruption and impunity' is huge. Some media have dared to publish preliminary results already (see here) being able to gather semi-approved results from singular specific voting centers around the country. If these figures are accurate, the former Karzai minister of finance Ashraf Ganzi will face the former Karzai foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah in round two. Yesteday all through the day and also today, the enthusiasm and satisfaction of many an Afghan is real about an election many feared could creat more security and other disorders. Having said this, it reamins to be seen if the positive echoes mainly from urban centers are confirmed also from the provinces. The remote areas with little media, observers and security presence have been, especially in the last 2009 election, the site of most ballot stuffing and fraud. The vote in itself is interpreted by most as a severe defeat of the Taliban, unable with a few exceptions it seems, to seriously disrupt voting.

Donnerstag, 3. April 2014

Afghan elections (1): 2004 - 2014

Four pictures that show the enthusiasm of the Afghan voter registration and election campaign in Kandahar, a former Taliban fiefdom. Mind you though: these pictures are from 2004, when Hamid Karzai was elected first time after the Petersberg interim. Back then, the Afghan people were not less enthusiastic than today. Today though the Afghan public opinion is more weary of fraud and corruption though than ten years ago. Do they believe in the slogans of the presidential and provincial candidates nevertheless? Not more or less than in any other country probably. The political game, at any time, obviously serves to incarnate or embody the hopes of people. Others may seem disillusioned. I just came across a university professor this morning in Kabul who very strictly said he is not going to vote. - - - - - - - - Having said this, Afghan media take an active role in trying to make the election process transparent. Pajhwok for instance, Afghanistans major news agency, has put up a website under the name of Afghans vote. Voters are invited to send in their stories and critical observations via the social media, sms, facebook, twitter or small formated videos. The hope is that their contributions from the 34 provinces all over would add to help prevent the wide range of fraud and vote rigging that occured in the 2009 election. As in 2004 and 2009 there is this time an equally flourishing business of voter cards. Some media have reported of some 12.5 million voters for an assumed number of beteen 18 to 20 million voter cards. On the other hand independent control and complaint bodies are rather slightly better equipped than in the 2009 elections. Some Afghan media indeed suggest that with the wide range of publicized media attention on the campaign, a number of polls and surveys and a promise not to repeat what has so drastically darkened the socio-political landscape five years ago, serve as indicators that history will this time have a different outcome.