Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hamid Karzai faces claims of fake polling

AFGHANS loyal to President Hamid Karzai set up hundreds of fake polling sites where no one voted but hundreds of thousands of ballots were still recorded for the President in last month's election, reports said yesterday.

The fake sites, as many as 800, existed only on paper, a senior Western diplomat in Afghanistan told The New York Times.

Local workers reported that hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of votes for Mr Karzai in the election came from each of the fake sites.

"We think that about 15 per cent of the polling sites never opened on election day," the senior Western diplomat told the newspaper. "But they still managed to report thousands of ballots for Karzai."

Besides creating the fake sites, Mr Karzai's supporters also took over about 800 legitimate polling centres and used them to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr Karzai, the report said. The result, the officials told the paper, was that in some provinces the pro-Karzai ballots may exceed the people who actually voted by a factor of 10. "We are talking about orders of magnitude," the senior Western diplomat told the paper. "This was fraud en masse."

The allegations came as Mr Karzai extended his lead in the presidential elections, inching closer to the absolute majority mark needed to avoid a run-off against his top challengers, who have threatened to reject the final results because of mounting evidence of government-orchestrated fraud.

The extended period of electoral uncertainty has coincided with rising political temperatures, after a NATO airstrike on Friday killed an unknown number of civilians in Kunduz province when targeting insurgents who had hijacked a pair of fuel trucks.

The airstrike has a dealt a blow to an Afghan government already reeling from what is widely seen as a flawed election. With each fresh batch of results, new charges of fraud have surfaced, stirring more anger against Mr Karzai and his allies.

According to results released yesterday from the Independent Election Commission, the government body responsible for conducting the elections and tallying the results, Mr Karzai has captured 48.6 per cent of the votes tallied so far. That represents a lead of almost 17 percentage points over his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

Dr Abdullah at the weekend accused the commission, whose leaders were appointed by Mr Karzai, of colluding with the President to steal the elections.

The commission denied the allegations and said it had excluded the results from 447 polling stations because they appeared fraudulent. It didn't specify how many votes this represented, but officials said it was not enough to affect the results.

The Karzai campaign denied allegations of wrongdoing. It said the excluded results would not affect the outcome of the vote.

Dr Abdullah pointed to several other polling stations with suspicious results that have been included in the vote tally. He added that such cases were so widespread he would not accept the final results.

In many areas of the south, Mr Karzai received all the votes cast. In the Torzai area of the southern province of Kandahar, for example, four polling stations reported exactly 500 votes for Mr Karzai. Out of the nine stations in the area, Mr Karzai received 4049 votes, with not a single ballot cast for any challenger, according to results shown on the IEC's website.

In the four polling centres of Zheri Dasht, a refugee camp in Kandahar, the incumbent received 2288 votes. Elections workers said there were only 2100 eligible voters in the area, and all the votes were for Mr Karzai. In Kandahar, results from nine of the 66 polling stations released thus far show that Mr Karzai received 100 per cent of the vote.

"This is what I am calling state-engineered fraud," Dr Abdullah said.

Election commission officials played down the potential for fraud, saying different candidates did well in their respective strongholds and such patterns weren't unusual in a democracy.

Source: The Australian

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