Election panel voids more Afghan votes

Orders recounts at hundreds of polling stations

By Douglas Birch and Jason Straziuso
Associated Press / September 11, 2009

E-mail this article

Invalid email address
Invalid email address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

KABUL - A UN-backed fraud commission threw out votes yesterday from 83 polling stations and ordered recounts at hundreds of others in three provinces that form Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s political base, reducing his chances of avoiding a runoff.

It was the first time the commission has flexed its muscles in the aftermath of an Aug. 20 presidential election marred by allegations of ballot stuffing, phantom polling stations, and turnout at some polls that exceeded 100 percent of registered voters.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Karzai’s chief challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, charged that the massive scale of what he called “state-engineered’’ fraud has become clear only as the numbers have trickled out over the past three weeks.

With results in from 92 percent of the country’s polling stations, Karzai has 54 percent of the vote, according to the latest official count.

That’s enough to avoid a runoff election with Abdullah, who has 28 percent.

But if the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission invalidates enough votes, Karzai’s margin could drop below 50 percent, forcing him to face Abdullah in a second round of voting.

Decisions by the fraud commission are final under Afghanistan’s electoral law. The group - made up of one American, one Canadian, one Dutch, and two Afghans - is releasing decisions from each province as investigations finish.

Yesterday, the commission threw out ballots from 51 polling stations in Kandahar province, 27 in Ghazni, and five in Paktika. Although it did not say how many ballots were invalidated, thousands are probably involved.

The panel ordered election officials to recount votes in hundreds of other voting centers across the three districts in the presence of observers, commission members, and representatives of the candidates.

All three provinces are dominated by voters who, like Karzai, are ethnic Pashtuns and form the president’s political base.

The Karzai-appointed Independent Election Commission, which is conducting the count, says it has deducted questionable votes from its totals.

But that commission’s website still lists results from one polling center in the Kandahar city of Spin Boldak where Karzai received exactly 3,000 votes, 600 from each of the five polling stations. Statisticians say such uniform results are highly unlikely and evidence of fraud.

“Of course there were fears and concerns about the possibility of fraud or rigging,’’ Abdullah said. “But . . . when you investigate it, then you see that the whole thing was state-engineered and unfortunately in collaboration with the IEC in most cases.’’

Abdullah said he expects that, once the fraudulent ballots are excluded, Karzai’s margin will drop below 50 percent, triggering a runoff.

There are about 770 polling states still being counted in Kandahar, according to the IEC website, meaning the 51 thrown out in the province represent about 5 percent of voting sites.

But the fraud commission has ordered audits and recounts of every vote cast in three of Kandahar’s province’s 17 districts, as well as more than a dozen additional polling stations in Paktika and Ghazni.

Investigators examined only a portion of the ballots in voting centers where there were complaints. In Kandahar’s Shorabak District they examined 15 of 41 polling stations. Officials found evidence of ballot stuffing in every one they looked at.