Monitors fuel doubts on Afghan vote
Karzai praises election amid reports of fraud
KABUL, Afghanistan — The main Afghan election observer group said yesterday that it had serious concerns about the legitimacy of this weekend’s parliamentary vote because of reported fraud, even as President Hamid Karzai commended the balloting as a solid success.
The conflicting statements underscored the difficulty of determining the credibility of the vote, which was also hit by militant attacks that hurt the turnout. Afghan officials started gathering and tallying results yesterday in a process that could take weeks, if not months, to complete.
The country’s international backers offered praise for those who voted Saturday despite bomb and rocket attacks, and voiced hoped for a democratic result. A repeat of the pervasive fraud that tainted a presidential election a year ago would only erode further the standing of the Karzai administration — both at home and abroad — as it struggles against a Taliban insurgency.
Although the first vote counts are due to be made public in a few days, full preliminary results are not expected until early October, and then there will be weeks of fraud investigations before winners are officially announced for the 249 parliamentary seats, which were contested by about 2,500 candidates.
The Election Commission has said it hopes to release the final results by the end of October, but there are likely to be a host of fraud complaints in each province, which could drag the process on even beyond that target date. The resolution of last year’s vote took months.
Yesterday, the independent Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, or FEFA, said it “has serious concerns about the quality of elections,’’ given the insecurity and numerous complaints of fraud. FEFA deployed about 7,000 people around the country, making it the largest observer of the parliamentary vote. Many international observer groups scaled back their operations from last year because of security concerns.
At least 21 civilians and nine police officers were killed during the voting, according to the Election Commission and the Interior Ministry, amid dozens of bombings and rocket attacks. In addition, two poll workers were kidnapped in northern Balkh Province and their bodies were discovered yesterday, Fazel Ahmad Manawi, Afghan Election Commission chairman, told reporters.
The Election Commission has yet to provide an overall turnout figure, but it appears to have been lower than last year. The commission said yesterday that at least 4 million people voted — about 24 percent of the country’s 17 million registered voters — though they were still waiting for reports from some voting centers.
Nearly 6 million ballots were cast last year, though the widespread ballot-box stuffing means it is difficult to know how many people actually voted.
Throughout Saturday’s balloting, complaints poured in from across the country that antifraud measures were being ignored or weren’t working . People said the indelible ink that is supposed to stain voters’ fingers for 72 hours could be washed off.
In some polling stations, observers said workers were letting people vote with obviously fake voter cards.
“Ballot stuffing was seen to varying extents in most provinces, as were proxy voting and underage voting,’’ FEFA said.
Yet Karzai issued a statement yesterday calling the vote an all-round success.
“President Karzai congratulates the nation of Afghanistan on its successful parliamentary election,’’ the statement said. It went on to call on the country’s antifraud watchdog to thoroughly investigate all complaints.
The head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, stressed how difficult it is to hold an election in a war zone like Afghanistan and said the Afghan government should be praised for getting people out to vote at all.
He said, however, that it was too early to determine whether the vote was a success, and cautioned that the combination of a low turnout in some areas and fraud allegations could threaten the results.
The head of Democracy International, a US-based observer group, said the tallying and fraud-investigation process will be key to determining the election’s validity.
Last year’s presidential vote was so tainted by ballot-box stuffing and rejiggered tallies — much to Karzai’s benefit — that nearly a third of his votes were thrown out.
If Afghans don’t accept the results of the vote, it could have a profound effect both inside the country and with Afghanistan’s international backers, who have 140,000 troops in the country and have spent billions trying to shore up Karzai’s administration.