Voting Fraud Is Found in Afghanistan’s Election

The New York Times

October 3, 2005

Voting Fraud Is Found in Afghanistan’s Election

By CARLOTTA GALL

KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 2 – Election officials and observers said today that with 80 percent of the ballots counted in Afghanistan’s national and provincial elections, they had found significant incidents of fraud.

Whole districts have come under suspicion for ballot box stuffing and proxy voting, said Peter Erben, the chief international electoral officer in charge of Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections. He said that ballot boxes from 4 percent of the country’s 26,000 polling stations – about 1,000 stations – had been set aside to be investigated for fraud and other irregularities.

The European Union observer mission said the reports of fraud and possible intimidation of voters were “worrying,” In a statement, the mission said, “While these phenomena do not appear to be nationwide, they are a cause for concern.”

Mr. Erben promised strong action and said that if there were a clear indication of fraud, the votes in question would be excluded from the general count. The Election Complaints Commission could also warn, fine and disqualify candidates if there was evidence of tampering, he said.

“We are taking irregularities very seriously,” he said.

One of the worst cases has been in Paghman, a district west of Kabul, which is the stronghold of Abdurab Rasul Sayyaf, a powerful wartime faction leader and close ally of President Hamid Karzai. Ballot boxes from 95 polling stations in Paghman have been set aside for further inspection and 30 to 40 of those had been cleared for counting by today, election officials said.

The remainder would be excluded from the count because of very clear evidence of fraud, one foreign observer said, asking not to be identified because the observer had not been permitted to speak to reporters.

Mr. Sayyaf is running for a seat in the Wolesi Jirga, or the lower house of parliament, and is in fourth place with 2,105 votes. Only 20 percent of the results for Kabul have been tabulated so far, but he is nevertheless well placed to win one of the 33 seats in the province.

Mr. Erben said there were no signs of countrywide attempts to defraud the Afghan people but that there had been local attempts. “I do not believe these irregularities in any way have affected the overall elections, but some of them have surely affected them locally,” he said. Voters went to the polls Sept. 18 to choose representatives for parliament from each province, and also for members of provincial councils.

“If compared with other, similar, post-conflict elections, I think that the level of irregularities that we are currently reviewing is extremely reasonable,” Mr. Erben told a news conference.

A “very high number” of polling stations in the southeastern province of Paktika, which runs along the tribal areas along the border with Pakistan, were also under review because of accusations of proxy voting, Mr. Erben said. Ballot boxes from 271 polling stations were quarantined in the province pending investigation, he said.

Another 300 boxes were quarantined in the western province of Herat, the leading commercial television station, Tolo TV, reported, quoting the local election supervisor.

The American military reported on Saturday that one American soldier and one Afghan soldier had been killed in a clash with insurgents in the southern province of Kandahar. Another American soldier and two Afghans were wounded in the attack, which occurred Friday. Violence in Afghanistan has sharply increased in recent months as Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attempts to drive out the Afghan government and foreign troops.

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