Thursday, October 21, 2010

WashPost:Officials: Nearly 1 in 4 Afghan ballots invalid due to fraud

Officials: Nearly 1 in 4 Afghan ballots invalid due to fraud

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/20/AR2010102001393.html

KABUL - Afghanistan's election commission threw out 1.3 million fraudulent votes from last month's parliamentary elections, about a quarter of all ballots cast and roughly the same amount as invalidated in last year's presidential election, election officials said Wednesday.

In announcing the preliminary election results, the chairman of the Independent Election Commission said that 5.6 million votes were cast but only 4.3 million were deemed valid after about a month of investigating the results with audits and recounts. Fazil Ahmad Manawi, the commission's chairman, said 224 parliamentary candidates, as well as an unspecified number of election officials, have been accused of fraud; their cases will be investigated by a separate complaints commission.

Despite the widespread irregularities, Manawi and other Afghan election officials described the election as a success, given that it was held amid a growing Taliban insurgency that made it difficult for many voters to reach the polls.

Abdullah Ahmadzai, another member of the election commission, said he considered the vote successful because the commission this year had better mechanisms in place to detect the fraud.

Last year's Afghan presidential election degenerated into a political crisis as President Hamid Karzai resisted the notion that he had lost his first-round majority because of widespread fraud. Karzai eventually prevailed when his opponent pulled out of a runoff vote.

Some parliamentary candidates on Wednesday criticized the process of invalidating votes, saying they thought the discarded ballot boxes took votes away from more than just the candidates who perpetrated fraud.

"In the process that took place, they employed nonprofessional people from the [Independent Election Commission]," said Nader Khan Katawazai, a parliament member and candidate from Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan. "They invalidated the votes, even though several candidates were in those boxes."

Katawazai said he expected that the continued high level of fraud would ensure that the rich and powerful prevailed at the ballot.

"The upcoming parliament will be the parliament of warlords, and the people who have power, and the people who are corrupt," he said.

Other parliament members said they were having trouble accessing the election commission's Web site to review the preliminary results, and so did not have a sense of how the new parliament might be different from the old.

Mir Ahmad Joyenda, a parliament member from Kabul, said that because the parliamentary elections were a lower priority for foreigners than last year's presidential vote, there was less scrutiny of the process.

"The fraud is much higher than the presidential election," Joyenda said. "I think more of the fundamentalist groups and the people who had money, they have been elected. There is no room for intellectuals and democrats."

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