Afghan polls: US diplomat stresses need for transparency

Independent Election Commission (IEC) workers sit at a computer terminal while election information from all over the country is gathered at the Data Centre in Kabul on October 2, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2019

Afghan polls: US diplomat stresses need for transparency

  • Wells visit follows accusations of electoral fraud by leading candidates

KABUL: US Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells, during talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, stressed the need for a transparent vote amid accusations by nominees that the two incumbent leaders were involved in presidential election fraud.

The vote saw the lowest turnout in any ballot since the ousting of the Taliban whose threats — apart from fatigue among voters, mismanagement, irregularities and violations — deprived hundreds of thousands of people from taking part in the polls on Sept. 28.

The IEC said that it will not be able to release the initial results on Oct. 19 because it had faced technical shortcomings, even as a number of presidential nominees said on Tuesday that Ghani and Abdullah were involved in fraud, adding that they aimed to put pressure on the IEC to announce the results in their favor.

The IEC, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) and officials close to Ghani and Abdullah have denied the charges.

Wells, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, arrived in Afghanistan on Monday and has since held separate meetings with Ghani and Abdullah who have shared power since the 2014 election that was marred with fraud. It followed a run-off where they agreed to share power under a US-brokered deal.

“I emphasized to [email protected] Ghani and CE Abdullah … that Afghan government institutions, leaders and elections must be transparent and accountable to the Afghan people …” she tweeted on Tuesday night.

“The IEC & ECC have a challenging task to review votes & process complaints, concerns, & allegations of fraud from across the country. We will support their decision on timing of release of preliminary results. Better for IEC/ECC to deliver an accurate result than a rushed one …”

The vote had been delayed twice due to division within government leaders and mismanagement as well as the progress made in peace talks between US diplomats and the Taliban.

Officials from Ghani’s administration said that the president had won a second term in office, while Abdullah declared himself as winner, causing uncertainty about the vote and doubt about the future of the country, which has been locked in war after more than four decades of foreign intervention.

The Council of Presidential Candidates (CPC) on Tuesday said that each of these two candidates declared themselves a winner of the election while the nation was still awaiting the election commission’s verdict to announce the results.

The CPC members also said that any attempt to put pressure on the election results — before the invalidation of fake votes — could push the country into a crisis.

“The ruling team is trying to refer the issue of the non-biometric votes to the Supreme Court, and this will be a great act of oppression. This will reduce any trust that the Afghan people have in the legal and judicial institutions,” Rahmatullah Nabil, a presidential candidate, said.

“These candidates (Ghani and Abdullah) messed up with three elections, so there is no one worse than them,” Enayatullah Hafiz, another presidential nominee, said.

“We didn’t get an answer from the international community whenever we consulted them, we asked several times whether you (international community) will guarantee the transparency of the election,” Ahmad Wali Massoud, a presidential election candidate, said.

Council members said that they will also dispatch a letter to the UN Security Council about the fraud by the leaders of the national unity government.

FASTFACTS

• Sept. 28 polls saw the lowest turnout in any ballot since the ousting of the Taliban.

• Of the 9.6 million people who had registered for voting, only 2 million people cast their ballot.

• The election commission says it will not be able to release the initial results on Oct. 19.

“We are completely monitoring the work of the secretariat of the election commission, we will not allow them to commit a violation. Anyone who tries to commit a violation — his place will be in prison,” said Shahab Hakimi, a presidential election candidate.

The council also stated that it was trying to prevent the entry of 1 million fake votes into the election commission’s database.

“Alice Wells visit to Afghanistan conveys two messages: first, election bodies were under immense pressure by parties and she has a clear answer to them,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Second, her remarks are hopeful for Afghans, despite the elections results being postponed. From her talks with the president and CEO, it seems that the election will go to the second round, and the current government will run until spring because of winter. Meanwhile, Taliban-US talks will resume, and sign an agreement afterward. The Taliban will talk with the winner of the election.”


Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

Updated 14 November 2019

Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

  • At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks
  • More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding
MOGADISHU, Somalia: Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded his sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of their roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled.

As one of his children, unfed, wailed the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the Somalia flooding last month, the country’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and that toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.