Presidential challenger says Karzai rigged Afghan vote
AFGHAN president Hamid Karzai's main challenger said yesterday he had evidence last week's election had been widely rigged by the incumbent and that he had lodged more than 100 complaints.
With counting under way following Thursday's vote, the country is on tenterhooks ahead of an official result – although the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and a relative lull in violence has helped calm tensions.
An election result respected by the candidates and their supporters is crucial for the country and for US president Barack Obama, who has made stabilising Afghanistan his top foreign policy priority.
On Sunday former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, whom polls gave a fighting chance of pushing the election to a second round in October, said he had evidence of widespread rigging.
"The initial reports we are receiving are a bit alarming," he said. "There might have been thousands of violations, no doubt about it."
Mr Abdullah said his team had already lodged more than 100 complaints with election officials.
He said a border security commander in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province, General Abdul Raziq, used his house as a polling station and stuffed the ballot box for Karzai. Other polling sites were in border police posts that Raziq controls, Abdullah said.
Gen Raziq denied the charges, saying that everyone in Spin Boldak voted in the appointed polling centres, which were schools and mosques. He said he and his police were busy maintaining security and did nothing to tamper with the process.
In a separate news briefing, the country's election watchdog said it was dealing with scores of complaints, but there was no sign they would directly affect the result.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) also said partial results would be released tomorrow, and repeated its warning to candidates that they should not make premature declarations.
Two opinion polls ahead of the election predicted Mr Karzai would win, but not by enough to prevent a second-round run-off against Mr Abdullah. Mr Karzai must win more than 50 per cent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
Watchdog the Election Complaints Commission (ECC) said it had received 225 complaints of which 35 had been labelled a priority.
"The allegations contained in the complaints we have received so far range from voter intimidation, violence, ballot box tampering (to] interference by some IEC officials," Grant Kippen told a news conference.
Mr Kippen said the ECC was aware of "significant complaints" of vote irregularities, but that there were no specific charges against individual candidates such as Mr Karzai.
Millions of Afghans braved threats of Taleban violence to vote in what was only the country's second presidential election.
Mr Abdullah said the southern provinces of Ghazni and Kandahar – the birthplace of the Taleban – were major areas of concern. He said vastly exaggerated turnouts were being reported, as well as ballot box stuffing well after the actual vote.
With the outcome still unpublished and both sides claiming victory, Washington's envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, said Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah had both promised to respect the result.
"So the United States' position, and that of all our NATO allies, is unanimous: we all will respect the decision of the Independent Election Commission," he said.
Western and Afghan officials have breathed a sigh of relief that violence did not wreck the election altogether after Taleban militants vowed to disrupt it and launched sporadic attacks across the country on the morning of the poll.
Attacks and threats did scare many people away, however, especially in the Taleban's southern heartland. Since voters in the south were expected to back Mr Karzai, poor turnout there increases the chance of a run-off.
There has been a relative lull in violence since the vote.
The prospect of an election dispute has led to fears of unrest, especially if it takes on an ethnic or regional character.
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