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Afghanistan tosses out thousands of votes amid fraud probe

Electoral officials sifting through thousands of complaints of vote fraud in last month’s parliamentary elections said Monday that ballots from about one-tenth of Afghanistan’s voting centers had been tossed out, with more disqualifications likely.

The release of preliminary results, now due Wednesday, has been delayed twice as authorities scrutinize a welter of allegations including ballot box stuffing and vote buying, as well as armed intimidation of voters.

It is not yet clear whether the scale of fraud in September’s parliamentary vote will be found to be as serious as that in last year’s presidential election, when about one-third of the ballots cast for President Hamid Karzai were thrown out.

Karzai ultimately prevailed after his main rival dropped out of a runoff vote, but the tainted election set the tone for a tempestuous second term, marked by widening public discontent with his administration and quarrels with his Western backers.

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A spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, the government body that oversaw the vote, said results from 571 polling centers — out of more than 5,500 that operated on election day — had been invalidated. That recalibration does not necessarily translate into a corresponding percentage of the vote, because the centers vary in size.

The spokesman, Noor Mohammad Noor, said votes from another 1,277 centers had been recounted and adjusted.

At the same time, the main panel investigating complaints reported that votes from 120 polling centers had been nullified because of “serious electoral violations.” Ahmad Zia Rafat, a spokesman for the Electoral Complaints Commission, said the panel was still investigating nearly 5,000 complaints of fraud and irregularities.

Because the final result will not be released until all those complaints have been adjudicated, the preliminary figures expected Wednesday may not provide much of a clue as to whether the new parliament will be inclined to challenge Karzai’s policies.

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Allies of the president were considered likely to continue dominating the 249-seat lower house of parliament, but those loyal to Abdullah Abdullah, his main challenger in the presidential race, probably will make up a substantial minority.

Clouded election results probably would heat up the continuing rivalry between Karzai and Abdullah and perhaps deepen ethnic rifts that are a hallmark of Afghan politics. Disputes over the results also could stoke tensions among warlord-style powerbrokers in various regions.

Many of the invalidated votes were cast in provinces where significant fighting is taking place between Western forces and insurgents, including Kunar and Paktia provinces near the eastern border with Pakistan and Kandahar province in the south.

Fighting generally dies down during Afghanistan’s harsh winters, but confrontations have remained intense into the early fall. The Interior Ministry said Monday that insurgents a day earlier had ambushed and killed eight Afghan security forces who were guarding a NATO convoy in volatile Helmand province.

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Also Monday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization reported the deaths of as many as 14 suspected insurgent fighters Sunday in airstrikes in Baghlan province, in the north, and Nimruz province, in the south.

The coalition in recent months has been making more aggressive use of airpower in staging pinpoint raids against midlevel insurgent commanders, and Western military officials claim the strikes have seriously disrupted insurgents’ ability to stage attacks.

laura.king@latimes.com


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