September 28, 2010

How to commit Afghan voter fraud: 101

No one expected Afghanistan's recent parliamentary election to be fraud-free.

But some people, especially those in the Western capitals looking for a dignified way to bring their troops home, were hoping that the election would be better than last year's fraud-riddled presidential race.

So far, the best thing that folks can point to as a success is the fact that there were no spectacular Election Day attacks to capture headlines.

Beyond that, however, there is little so far to suggest that the elections have produced a great leap forwards for Afghan democracy.

Afghan elections officials are looking into more than 3,600 complaints about the recent election, and more than half of them have the potential to alter the outcome in races for 249 seats in the elected house of Afghanistan's bicameral parliament.

There have already been serious reports of voter fraud that have raised questions about the legitimacy of the election in key Afghan provinces.

This week, new video emerged that adds to the evolving picture.

The most most damning video shows a man wearing an Afghan Border Police uniform standing watch while three men sit around a ballot box they keep stuffing with rigged ballots.

The video was obtained by an Afghan politician who asked not to be identified - and it could not be independently verified.

It was reportedly shot in Spin Boldak, the border town in Kandahar province that is basically run by Abdel Razek, the feared Border Police commander dubbed "the Master of Spin Boldak."

Razek has noted that anyone can buy an Afghan military uniform (a completely separate problem...) and dismissed the video.

But Afghan elections watchdogs say that the video is one of many to raise concerns about the election.

What remains to be determined is how widespread the fraud was in the race - and if the election process can be touted as a small step forward for Afghan democracy.

That is the challenge facing Afghan elections officials who are under intense pressure from many sides to tilt the races one way or another.

"If they leave the election the way it is, there is no place for democracy in Afghanistan," said Afghan lawmaker Khalid Pashtoon, a critic of Afghan President Hamid Karzai who is concerned that fraud will deny him a seat in the next parliament. "It is gone. It is history. It is under the debris."

September 25, 2010

Jihadi Gangster for parliament

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(Aman Mojadidi as the Jihadi Gangster, his latest artistic incarnation.)

Last year, Kabul-based artist Aman Mojadidi transformed himself into an Afghan policeman and set up a fake checkpoint where he searched cars and then offered drivers $2, along with an apology for any bribes they had been forced to pay to policemen in the past.

This fall, Mojadidi's latest incarnation, the Jihadi Gangster took his bling, his gold-plated guns, and his bravado on the campaign trail to run for parliament.

While the Jihadi Gangster (shouldn't it really be Jihadi Gangsta?) didn't round up the necessary signatures or submit the proper paperwork to run as a legitimate candidate in the recent election, he did go so far as to produce campaign posters that were stuck up on walls around town.

DSC_0192 copy

 In the final weeks of the campaign season, Jihadi Gangster campaign posters began popping up alongside posters for legitimate politicians.

The JG's campaign slogan, emblazoned on the poster, is simple: Vote for me. I've done jihad. And I'm rich.

JG's face is blacked out by a box and the words: Your favorite jihadi face here. JG is wearing a black turban, suit and a gold plated handgun hanging around his neck from a large gold plated chain.

The backdrop is filled with dollar signs and AK-47s.

Because of the high illiteracy rate in Afghanistan, each candidate in an election has a small icon next to their name and face so voters can more easily identify their favorite politicians.

Sometimes it is cups or horseshoes. Other times it is a fish or key. The Jihadi Gangster's icon: Three diamonds.

Amid growing indications that power brokers engaged in widespread fraud in last Saturday's election, some might argue that the next parliament is likely to be filled with plenty of criminal minds, even if the Jihadi Gangster won't be joining them.

As things go in Kabul, the JG's upstart campaign almost never got off the ground. At least one printer refused to print the JG campaign posters because he said they were too inflammatory and insulting.

Since the JG won't be heading to parliament any time soon, he is set to make his true international debut.

Next month, Mojadidi's work, which you can see more of here and here, will be featured in Paris at the Gallery Nikki Diana Marquardt from Oct. 23 to Oct. 31.

(His work will also be part of the SLICK Art Fair in Paris from Oct. 21-24.)

In some ways, the JG is a manifestation of the two worlds Mojadidi inhabits as a native of Jacksonville, Florida with deep political roots in Afghanistan. (His uncle is Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, the former president who now leads Afghanistan's upper house of parliament.)

In a recent interview, the journalist asked Mojadidi if he considered himself Afghan or American.

"Afghan-American became the ‘nom du jour’ and so I was that for a while," he said. "But in the U.S., most Americans identify me on sight as a foreigner, and here in Afghanistan most Afghans identify me as a foreigner on sight as well. I was born in the U.S., my parents are Afghan, and I’m fluent in both English and Dari; it could end there. But I’ve started to think more about how one’s identity has become almost taken out of one’s own control, and is more and more defined by others. So I think about post-identity possibilities. In answer to your question using the options you’ve given me, I guess that would mean ‘neither.’ But beyond that I’m not sure."

Mojadidi said his life and art have largely been defined by the conflict in Afghanistan.

"For me, living with my own internal conflicts, be they issues of religion, identity, relationships, coupled with the global conflicts carried in the media, and tripled with living in a conflict zone has created a strange nexus where no conflict feels distant or separate from the reality within which I live," he said. "It all seems connected somehow, as if a state of conflict is simply what must be accepted; many of which are not conflicts that can or will be resolved but that just make up a part of the personal and global identity. At a certain point it becomes less that I feel as though as I’m in or at conflict with anything, but rather that I am conflict, as a state of being."

July 9, 2010

Afghan election leaders: No complaints please!

Perhaps it seemed like a good idea at the start.

Earlier this year, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, the electoral oversight body accused of bias in last year's fraud-tainted presidential election, hired an outside firm to produce commercials encouraging voters with problems to call a complaint line.

Well, according to the From Kabul With Love blog, the IEC put a quick halt to the ad campaign.

Why?

"Because they were getting TOO MANY COMPLAINTS!" writes the blogger, who works for the outside company hired to do the PR. "What in the f**k did they expect? Really? That no one would call? Uh? If I recall correctly, the last election was fraught with accusations of vote-rigging and intimidation. People are angry and they have lost faith in the process and the first thing that is initiated in an effort to combat this gets sacked before it even has a chance."

December 13, 2009

Embattled UN chief in Kabul to step down

Perhaps no international figure in Kabul has become as synonymous with the troubled Afghan presidential election as Kai Eide, the Norwegian diplomat who heads UNAMA.Kai

Eide came under fire from his deputy, Peter Galbraith, who clashed with Eide over the UN's handling of the fraud-tainted election that returned President Hamid Karzai to power.

Last month, the International Crisis Group said Eide had "lost the faith of his staff" and should resign.

When asked two weeks ago about the calls for his resignation, Eide said he had no plans to step aside.

"At this critical juncture, it would be absolutely wrong to have any change in the major international positions in Afghanistan," Eide told a small group of reporters on the eve of President Obama's troop surge announcement.

Over the weekend, Eide declared that his commitment to continuity would end in March.

Eide announced that he would not look to extend his tenure in Kabul, but cast the decision as a move to fulfill a promise to his family not to stay in Afghanistan more than two years.

It is curious, though, that Eide did not mention his plans to step aside when he spoke to reporters two weeks ago.

Eide's move creates an opportunity and a challenge for the UN.

Afghanistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in May, and there are already simmering concerns that the vote could fall victim to the same problems with fraud and security that undermined the presidential election.

Some critics said that Eide has been behind a push to delay the vote, and that other diplomats back the idea.

Eide warned that the UN needs to move quickly to find a successor so that there is no vacuum when he leaves.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Checkpoint Kabul is written by McClatchy journalists covering Afghanistan and south Asia.

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