Afghan election: Charges of fraud, interference mar vote count

Karzai urges officials to announce results as per schedule.


Tahir Khan April 19, 2014
Karzai urges officials to announce results as per schedule. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD:


Afghan election authorities are set to announce preliminary results of the April 5 presidential polls in a few days amid widespread speculations of a possible run-off and allegations of vote fraud.


The country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) says the result, scheduled to be declared on April 24, will let Afghans know who in all probability will replace President Hamid Karzai.

The Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) will then adjudicate thousands of complaints, many of which are reported to be serious, regarding the preliminary results. Once the adjudication is complete, the IEC will announce the final results on May 14.

Early estimates

Partial results announced last Sunday have placed former foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah, one of the three front-runners, ahead of his rivals – Dr Ashraf Ghani and Zalmai Rasoul.

The results were based on 10% of the votes cast in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces and prompted fraud allegations from the other candidates. Nearly seven million out of 12 million registered people voted in the elections.

Abdullah and Ghani remain confident they will secure the required 50% plus one vote and would not need a run-off voting. However, in order to pacify the rest of the runners, IEC Chairman Ahmed Yusuf Nuristani played down the impact of the partial results, saying those could change with time and a candidate leading in the first batch could lag behind after further counting.

IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor has now confirmed that ballot boxes from all 34 provinces have arrived in Kabul and counting is under way as planned.

Fixing the game?

Noor told media at a news conference in Kabul on Thursday that recounting had started after a number of result sheets appeared tampered with and rigging was pointed out at some polling centres, the Pajhwok news agency reported.

The same day, IECC senior official Walid Akbar Sarwari said votes from those centres will be excluded from the counting process until they are verified, adding the investigation could impact results, reported Tolo TV.

IECC officials have also expressed concerns that certain government and non-government interests will try to interfere with the fraud investigation.

Transparency

Meanwhile, independent observers remain concerned at interference in the ongoing counting process at the central election office.

“Politicians are trying to infiltrate the commission and influence its decisions. The election commission needs to establish a strong barrier so no one can force its hand in anyway,” former IECC chief Fazel Ahmad Manavi told Tolo TV.

Two major independent monitoring groups lashed out at poll authorities for failing to count votes and manage complaints transparently. The criticism comes amid claims that election officials did not allow observers to view sealed ballot boxes at the time of their opening.

This week a representative of the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan said no observation mechanism has been provided for observers to oversee the counting. Moreover, the
Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan says its observers are not present when suspicious result sheets are reviewed by IECC officials.

As millions of Afghans and the world await the results, Karzai has used his latest radio speech to assure countrymen the election result will be announced within the specified timeframe.

“I am hopeful final results will be announced as per schedule and the new president, with a new government, will take more steps for the country’s development and peace,” he said during an address on Thursday, the state news agency, Bakhtar, reported.

Karzai said he is confident candidates will accept the results and respect the people’s mandate so that the country moves towards stability.

With foreign forces leaving Afghanistan by the end of this year, it is believed the US and its allies’ frustration will grow if a second round of voting is held in case a clear victor does not emerge.

The United States wants to sign a bilateral security arrangement with Afghanistan to keep some troops post-2014 drawdown and will not welcome delays in it. Karzai has refused to sign the pact and has passed the burden on to the next head of state.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2014.

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