September 08, 2009

'Clear and convincing evidence of Fraud' found in Afghanistan By Sonia Verma, From Wednesday's Globe and Mail, Sept 8, 2009

Country faces potential electoral gridlock as two sides advance competing claims

As election authorities in Afghanistan moved closer to handing Hamid Karzai an outright win, a UN-backed watchdog cast any claim of victory into doubt, finding "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" in last month's presidential vote.

The countervailing claims threatened to throw the country into a messy and lengthy period of political gridlock as the disputed ballots are adjudicated, a process that could take months.

That also raised the possibility of an eventual showdown between the Independent Election Commission, the Afghan body counting the votes, and the Electoral Complaints Commission, the UN-backed body investigating mounting allegations of fraud.


"It is necessary and appropriate to conduct an audit and recount ballots cast at polling stations that exceed certain thresholds that have proven to be strong indicators of electoral irregularities," the complaints commission said in its statement.

The ECC ordered a recount of all votes in polling stations where 600 or more votes had been cast, or where any one candidate won 95 per cent or more per cent of the vote.

In its statement yesterday, the ECC did not specify how many polling stations or ballots may have been marred, but the European Union's election monitors have suggested the number could exceed 566,000, a figure that could erode Mr. Karzai's lead enough to force a runoff vote.

Approximately 5.7 million votes have been counted so far, including 250,000 that were discarded because the ballot had been spoiled.

Under Afghan law, the IEC can only certify its final tally after the ECC has completed its investigation.


The ECC, in contrast, is viewed as more independent, and includes comprised of officials appointed by the United Nations, the Afghan Supreme Court and human-rights organizations. It is led lead by Grant Kippen, a Canadian.

In an earlier interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Kippen cautioned all of the presidential candidates against premature claims of victory, underscoring his efforts to ignore political pressure to complete fraud investigations before Sept. 17, the date on which the IEC has said it would certify a final vote count.

Now, as the tally edges towards completion, and the allegations of fraud multiply, those calls are being echoed, and increasingly focus on Mr. Karzai.

Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, visited the Afghan President earlier this week and urged him not to declare victory unless the tally was formally certified.

"We're looking to the IEC and Electoral Complaints Commission to rigorously carry out their legal mandate to count all votes and exclude all fraudulent votes," Mr. Eikenberry said.

Dr. Abdullah, Mr. Karzai's main challenger and his former foreign minister, has called the official tally a "tragic joke."

He has vowed to legally challenge any count that favours Mr. Karzai, whom he has personally accused of orchestrating massive vote rigging in a desperate bid to secure a second term.

"It will be very difficult to justify the support of the outcome of an election, for which hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent and NATO soldiers have died, ... [if] fraud decides the outcome, not the will of the people," he said.

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