Afghans Count Ballots; Karzai Opponents Tally Complaints
Incumbent Hamid Karzai held a strong lead in the ballot count Monday as allegations of fraud continued more than a week after Afghanistan’s first presidential election.
With an estimated 21% of ballots counted, Karzai had 61% of the vote, according to the U.N.-Afghan group that organized the Oct. 9 election.
His main rival, Younis Qanooni, had almost 19% of the ballots counted. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek warlord, was running third in a field of 16 presidential candidates, with just over 8%.
After briefing a United Nations official Monday on a long list of alleged irregularities, Qanooni said there were more problems with the balloting than he had first thought.
“Unfortunately, our friends working in the government are trying to make these big problems seem very small,” Qanooni said in an interview. “But in reality the fraud is preplanned.”
The election was largely peaceful despite threats from Taliban militants and their allies to kill voters and attack voting stations. But in the days since the polls closed and a massive security operation ended, violence has resurged.
On Monday, an election worker and four other Afghans were killed when the truck in which they were riding in Paktika province exploded. U.S.-led forces have been battling insurgents in that southeastern region, which borders Pakistan.
The explosion occurred around 8 a.m. on a road southwest of Sharan, the provincial capital, said Sultan Baheen, spokesman for the Joint Electoral Management Body.
Based on initial reports, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said it was not clear whether the election vehicle had been targeted.
“The area where this incident happened is known for mines and improvised explosive devices,” he said. “And we don’t know which explosive device hit the vehicle.”
The list of 38 complaints Qanooni presented to the U.N. included claims of multiple voting and ballot stuffing, as well as charges that voter identification cards were handed out in some areas on election day, underage Afghans were allowed to cast ballots, and monitors were beaten and jailed.
Qanooni said his campaign’s monitors saw at least seven ballot boxes set aside at the Kabul counting station because of “technical problems,” such as broken seals. Later, the boxes had disappeared, he told the U.N.
On election day, Qanooni reported, a poll worker in Kabul handed a voter a ballot and told him to check the box beside a picture of Karzai, who is interim president. Qanooni said the voter replied: “Look up. I am Mr. Said Abdul Hadi Dabir, one of the candidates!”
“They should not have called this a real election,” Qanooni told the U.N. official. “Foreign countries just should have announced, ‘We want President Karzai.’ I would have respected that.”
Baheen of the electoral group told reporters that anyone with complaints could fill out a form and have them investigated by his board.
Election officials estimate that at least 8 million ballots were cast, out of more than 10 million registered voters. Several thousand people are believed to have registered more than once.
To prevent multiple voting, election officials marked voters’ thumbs with supposedly indelible ink. But many voters were able to rub off the mark, prompting all 15 opposition candidates to announce a boycott before the polls closed.
When U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad intervened, Qanooni and other major candidates agreed to accept an investigation by a three-member U.N. panel of election experts to resolve the disputes.
But foreign experts are investigating complaints of only election day irregularities, Qanooni said Monday, adding that many serious problems have occurred since then as ballot boxes were moved to the eight counting centers, often without monitors, and as the ballots were tabulated.
Karzai would need to win more than 50% of the votes to avoid a runoff. He also wants a strong mandate to help him counter the power of warlords and disarm their militias.
He is leading in only half the country’s 34 provinces, while Qanooni and Dostum are each leading in five provinces that form their Tajik and Uzbek ethnic bases. Mohammed Mohaqiq, an ethnic Hazara leader, is leading in two provinces. The remaining five provinces have yet to report any results.
Old-guard warlords such as Dostum and Mohaqiq may use a strong showing in their home regions to press for Cabinet posts. But Karzai has said he wants to build a government based on merit rather than political horse-trading.