| Afghan voters this time will have to put their index finger into a bottle of ink
Kabul, Aug. 25: A mad wind raises dust and blows down a banner strung from lamp post to lamp post in Kabul’s upscale Shahr-e-Now.
The banner campaigns for a candidate and for Afghanistan’s first parliamentary election. India is voted out. Out, out, damned stain. Indian ink that marked fingertips in Afghanistan in last October’s presidential poll, which confirmed Hamid Karzai in office, has been rejected for the first parliamentary poll.
The rejection of Indian ink is no comment on Indian democracy, if indeed, one was needed from Kabul.
India supplied (“contributed”) the ink for the October 2004 presidential election in Afghanistan made by the company Mysore Paints and Varnishes that is used by the Election Commission in India to distinguish those who have voted from those who have not.
But last October, the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Monitoring Board that supervises Afghanistan’s feeble democracy was beset with complaints that the ink could be rubbed off.
This time, the board has opted for Canadian ink. “We invited quotations from a number of companies all over the world,” spokesperson Sultan Ahmed Baheen, told The Telegraph here today. “We found the Canadian ink best because it will not rub off for three or four days. We have ordered for one hundred and twenty thousand bottles of it.”
Afghanistan’s election is costing donors $149 million.
As the Election Commission in India grapples with the logistics of conducting polls in Bihar ' likely in September/October ' its man on the board, Noor Mohammed, can be expected to take back novel lessons from Afghanistan. Noor Mohammed is a deputy poll commissioner with the Election Commission of India.
If elections can be held in Afghanistan, they can be held in Bihar. Easily. And elections are being held here.
The campaigning, or what passes for it, is beginning to peak in Kabul. The Kabul Valley has 33 seats in the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga to which elections are being held alongside the polls to 34 provincial councils.
There are 6,000 candidates contesting in Afghanistan, 500-odd in Kabul. There is no ballot paper for the voter in Kabul. There is a ballot book. The names of the candidates are not listed in alphabetical order. Because that would invite allegation of some sort of bias. So the names are listed in an order drawn by lottery.
After casting the vote, the voter will not have their fingertip marked by the stab of a pen. They will have to dip the index finger into a bottle of Canadian ink.
Yesterday, the board issued the following order: “Voters will be prevented from casting more than one ballot. Special features in this year’s inking system ensure the staining of voters’ fingers after they have voted”.
Afghanistan has a population estimated at 24 million. The board says it has 12.5 million registered voters. It is printing 40 million ballot papers.
The board spokesperson, Baheen, explains why: “Voters are expected to cast the vote twice, one for the Wolesi Jirga, the Lower House of Parliament, and one for the provincial council. That accounts for 25 million ballot papers. Then there is one million for the nomads. Then, we have said, a voter can cast his/her vote in any polling station in his/her province. So each polling station is being given extra ballot papers.”
Beyond the statements of the board, the “international community” and the United Nations, Afghanistan’s parliamentary election is little more than a non-event for its people. But it has to pass muster. Oh yes, India is building the Parliament that will shelter the Wolesi Jirga and the Meshrano Jirga (upper legislature). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will lay the foundation stone for it on the weekend.