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Afghanistan: Voter Card Fraud Fears
Distribution of voter cards opens the way for possible widespread fraud in forthcoming election.
By Wahidullah Amani in Kabul (ARR No. 180, 30-Jul-05)
The final days of voter registration brought a flurry of business at some of Afghanistan's 1,052 electoral roll centres. There, the politically savvy were busy picking up multiple voter-ID cards that they say will give them chance to vote more than once.
Or maybe it won't. It all depends on whether the indelible ink ordered for the September 18 parliamentary and provincial council elections - which electoral officials apply to voters’ fingers to ensure that they only vote once - truly will not wash off immediately, as it did in some instances in last year's presidential poll.
The ink used for the October 9 ballot rubbed off easily in a significant number of cases and there was widespread evidence of people voting time after time.
They were able to do so by picking up multiple cards because of lax ID requirements - allowing even some non-Afghans, notably from Pakistan, to vote. But no figures for the extent of foreign voting were ever established.
The Joint Electoral Management Body, JEMB, overseeing the registration process began actually registering people on June 25 and closed on July 22. During that time, it issued more than 1,650,000 cards to add to the 10.5 million handed out ahead of the presidential poll.
Among the new potential voters were thousands of refugees who had recently returned to the country; those who will turn 18 by election day; and those who said they had lost last year's card.
Some people clearly planning to vote illegally told IWPR that they had already collected several new cards besides those they still had from the October 9 vote that put President Hamed Karzai in power.
Yama, who lives in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, said he had three cards for the presidential election and voted three times for candidate Haji Mohammad Muhaqeq.
“So far I have obtained two voter cards from two voting stations and now I am waiting here to get a third one,” he told IWPR, adding that officials had only asked for his name and address.
Another resident of Mazar-e-Sharif, who refused to be named, said he picked up two cards from one voting station simply by going back later and using a different name.
The spokesman for the JEMB, Sultan Ahmad Baheen, dismisses the possibility of fraud through multiple cards.
“This time we are to use a sort of ink which is in a bottle and the thumb of the voter is inserted into the bottle - I am confident that this ink will remain for several days on the voter’s thumb,” said Baheen, adding that the mark will be obvious to officials and they will not let people vote more than once.
Another Mazar resident, who did not want to be named, said one of his relatives was standing for parliament and told him to get as many cards as he could so he could vote for him several times.
"So far I have managed to obtain two voter cards and want to get some more. If the ink can be rubbed off, I will vote for my favourite candidate several times, but if not, it doesn’t matter because I have not spent any money to get cards,” he said.
One problem in ensuring that each voter has only one card which only he or she can use is that most Afghans do not have national identity cards.
Candidate Sayed Ali Jawed suggests that people without such an ID should have been asked for a letter from their village leader vouching for their identity when they went to register.
In Kabul, an IWPR reporter saw people being issued voter cards without an ID or being asked any questions.
“Initially we ask the voter whether he is an Afghan national and obtained a voter card in presidential elections or not. We will issue him or her with a new voter card if he or she says that they are an Afghan national and didn’t have a card during the presidential elections or has lost the card," said Sayed Zahir, the official in charge of the centre.
"We have not been told not to issue anyone with voter cards if they don't have identity cards - having an ID card is not essential," he said, adding that they had no way of knowing if people already had cards from last year.
Some say proof of identity should be required by anyone registering to vote.
Ali Ahmad, 55, was surprised when he was only asked for his name and age when he registered in Kabul. “I can get voter cards from another 10 centres too - they should have a look at everyone’s ID and record its serial number. I had my ID and passport with me, but no one asked me for that - I didn’t show it to any one either,” he said.
The ID problem in Afghanistan is not something that can be easily resolved.
“Different regimes have issued different ID cards in Afghanistan and some people outside or inside Afghanistan have been issued fake ones. The only way to prevent all these problems is to issue new IDs,” said Mir Abdul Rahman Maqul, head of the statistics department of the interior ministry.
Asked whether the lack of identity cards would open the way for electoral fraud, Maqul said the government eventually planned to issue new ones, but meanwhile the problem was one for the election body to sort out.
Wahidullah Amani is an IWPR reporter in Kabul. Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif also contributed to this report.