Karzai lauds panel that says he leads in Afghan election
KABUL - President Hamid Karzai stressed his support for Afghanistan’s election commission yesterday as international trust in the group appeared to erode following allegations of widespread fraud in last month’s presidential poll.
Karzai’s praise for the Independent Election Commission came a day after it announced preliminary results giving him more than 50 percent of the vote, the threshold for avoiding a runoff against his top challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister.
The Aug. 20 election, the second direct presidential vote in Afghanistan’s history, was marred by attacks by Taliban insurgents and has been tainted by allegations of massive fraud ranging from ballot-box stuffing to fake polling stations.
A separate, UN-backed body charged with investigating the fraud ordered a partial re-count Tuesday. Polling stations with turnouts at or above 100 percent and voting centers where one candidate won 95 percent of the vote need to be audited and recounted under the order.
The Afghan-run commission said it has quarantined votes that appear fraudulent - pending review by the UN-backed complaints body on whether they should be counted or discarded - but tallies posted on its website show Karzai garnering 95 percent to 100 percent of votes at more than 20 voting centers.
Apparently conflicting standards of what constitutes fraud in the eyes of the Afghan election commission - which runs the election process and is headed by Karzai appointees - and the complaints body - three of whose five members are appointed by the United Nations - signal a widening fissure between the government and the international overseers of the vote.
A senior Western diplomat has alleged that a majority of votes in three provinces - Kandahar, Paktika, and Khost - are fraudulent. Partial returns from each of those provinces heavily favor Karzai. Others have alleged there have been as many as 800 fake polling sites, and that results have been submitted from voting centers that never opened because of poor security.
On Tuesday, the top UN envoy to the country and the US Embassy both issued strong statements calling for rigorous efforts to identify fraud and exclude all fraudulent votes.
Karzai’s statement set a different tone.
The president said he “applauds the elections commission for its efforts in pursuing the process in an impartial and faithful national spirit.’’
The president released his statement after the commission announced Tuesday that with 92 percent of polling stations now counted, preliminary results showed Karzai has 54 percent of the vote, against 28 percent for Abdullah.
Abdullah has repeatedly charged that the election commission is rigging the vote. The commission’s announcement that Karzai holds a commanding lead is “not acceptable. It’s not real.’’ he told the Associated Press.
Walter Mebane, a political science professor at the University of Michigan who specializes in election data analysis, said the results posted so far show “a pattern that is widely suspicious.’’
The preponderance of results ending in zeros is highly unlikely and “very compatible with the ballot boxes being stuffed or the counting being faked,’’ Mebane said.
Commission officials have warned that recounts ordered by the complaints commission could mean final results won’t be known for months.