Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Process

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KABUL, Sept 22 - During last year's nation-wide presidential elections, Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) played a major role during the contentious post-election period in which complaints of widespread fraud led to the quarantining of many polling centers and a prospective run-off, which was averted when principal challenger Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the race. With over 2,500 candidates running in 35 separate contests around the country in this year's elections for the Wolesi Jirga lower house of parliament, the complaints process is again expected to be a lengthy and complex one.

National and Provincial ECCs

To accomodate the varied contests taking place, Provincial Electoral Complaints Commissions (PECCs) have been established in all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces for this election. Like the national ECC, these are short-term bodies that are to stood up in advance of the election (by statute, 60 days beforehand) and that will cease their operations following the certification of final results. The PECCs for Balkh, Ghazni, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, and Nangahar provinces are composed of five commissioners; in all other provinces, there are three commissioners.

Following a presidential decree enacted in March of this year that re-wrote portions of the Afghan Electoral Law, all five members of the national ECC are appointed by President Karzai. Under an agreement with the United Nations special representative, Staffan de Mistura, two of Karzai's appointees are international comissioners. The organization's chairman is Judge Sayed Murad Sharifi of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan. All PECC members are Afghan nationals and again all are appointed by the president.

The complaints commissions hold jurisdication over any electoral offenses, from the vetting of candidates through the campaign period to Election Day and the counting and certification of results afterwards. PECCs hold jurisdiction over their respective provinces, but decisions from a PECC can be appealed by any party within three days of the decision to the national ECC. In some cases serious complaints may be forwarded immediately to the ECC for action.

Complaints Process

Any individual or organization judged to have a legitimate interest in the electoral process - including voters, candidates, observers, or party officials, among others - may file complaints at their PECCs or directly to the national ECC. All complaints must be submitted in writing and cannot be submitted anonymously, although the ECC says that any identifying information in the complaint will be treated confidentially. Complaints must be submitted within three days of the offense or within three days of the offense becoming known to be accepted. The ECC and PECCs have the authority to conduct investigations without any complaint being lodged, but the degree to which they have exercised this power appears to be limited.

Complaints are sorted into A, B, and C categories, with A-class complaints being those that have the potential to directly impact the outcome of the election. Depending on the offense, complaints commissions can issue warnings, order sanction individuals to take remedial actions, impose fines of up to Afs 500,000 (approximately $11,400), remove a candidate's eligibility to contest the elections (as it has done so in 91 cases thus far), or order a recount of ballots. The ECC and its provincial bodies do not have the authority to sanction individuals for crimes unrelated to the electoral process, although they can refer them to other relevant authorities.

As of September 22, the ECC reported that it had received 3,764 formal complaints since the start of the campaign period in June; 2,064 of the complaints had been filed since voting on Saturday and about 1,700 were from pre-Election Day complaints. The three-day filing period means the deadline for filing complaints specifically related to Election Day conduct expired on 4:00 PM on Tuesay, Sep 21; but commisioner Ahmad Zia Rafat previously indicated that the period for filing complaints might be extended until week's end. (ECC officials said that no extension would be made.)

Khost (160) and Nangarhar (156) provinces top the list of complaints; Baghlan (110) and Kabul (90) have now recorded more complaints than the 80 recived in Laghman, Herat and Kunar.


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