Afghans vote amid violence and widespread fraud

KABUL Sat Sep 18, 2010 7:15pm EDT

1 of 16. Election workers count ballot papers at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Kandahar province September 18, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan officials hailed a parliamentary vote on Saturday as a success despite low turnout, attacks that killed 14 people and widespread fraud that could undermine the result and test the government's credibility.

Taliban attacks and attempts at vote-rigging were reported across the country. While there was less violence, attacks were more widespread than during a deeply flawed presidential vote last year and reached into once peaceful areas.

The election was being closely watched in Washington ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's planned war strategy review in December, which will likely examine the pace and scale of U.S. troop withdrawals after nine years of war.

A flawed poll would also weigh on Obama when his administration faces mid-term Congressional elections in November amid sagging public support for the war, with violence at its worst since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

"As a whole I would rate this election successful," said Fazl Ahmad Manawi, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) chairman.

Voters appeared hesitant after a series of rocket attacks, beginning with a pre-dawn strike near the main headquarters of NATO-led troops and the U.S. embassy in the capital, Kabul.

The Taliban said on their website after polls closed they had conducted more than 150 attacks, fewer than the 272 blamed on insurgents during last year's presidential poll. Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said there had been 305 "enemy actions."

General David Petraeus, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, praised Afghan security forces and voters.

"The people of Afghanistan sent a powerful message today," Petraeus said in a statement. "The voice of Afghanistan's future does not belong to the violent extremists and terror networks. It belongs to the people."

Afghan Interior Minister General Bismillah Khan said three police and 11 civilians were killed, with dozens more wounded. In one of the worst incidents, Taliban gunmen attacked a security post near a polling site in northern Baghlan province.

The Taliban had vowed to disrupt the poll and warned voters not to cast ballots. Their threats appeared to have an impact, with 3,642,444 votes cast, according to preliminary figures released by the IEC.

The United Nations' top diplomat in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, told Reuters before the vote that a turnout of between 5 million and 7 million could be considered a success. The IEC has put the number of eligible voters at 11.4 million.

Manawi said 4,632 polling centers had opened. The IEC had originally planned to open 6,835 but said before polling day 1,019 of those would remain closed because they were unsafe.

CREDIBILITY TEST

As well as the low turnout and violence, thousands of reported attempts at fraud threatened to undermine the poll's credibility, and that of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Karzai cast his ballot in Kabul for a female Hindu candidate, two palace officials said, a choice that could rankle supporters in the conservative, Muslim nation.

The National Directorate of Security said more than 22,000 fake registration cards were found in the last three days. There were widespread reports of bribery and intimidation also.

An ink-stained fingertip was meant to mark those who had cast ballots but voters, campaign workers and observers said some ink batches washed off easily and others came off with bleach, potentially allowing multiple trips to the polls.

The independent Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan said the problem had hit almost 3,000 centers.

"I voted and you see my finger is washed clean of ink," said Bashir Ahmad from western Herat city, waving his unstained digit.

The Afghan government and foreign observers all acknowledged before the vote the election would be imperfect, many casting their eyes back to last year's presidential poll when a third of votes cast for Karzai were thrown out as fake.

The European Union commended Afghanistan on its second parliamentary election since 2001. It deplored the loss of life but also noted "allegations of irregularities and fraud" and urged Afghan election monitors to address those impartially.

Washington believes graft weakens the central government and its ability to build up institutions like the Afghan security forces, which in turn determines when troops will leave. Obama has pledged to start drawing down U.S. forces from July 2011.

It will not be clear for several weeks who among the almost 2,500 candidates have won the 249 seats in the wolesi jirga, or lower house of parliament. Early results will not be known until at least October 8, with final results not due before October 30.

Poll observers expect thousands of complaints, which must be lodged within 72 hours and could delay the process further.

(Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin, Hamid Shalizi, Tim Gaynor, Jonathon Burch, Emma Graham-Harrison and Bryson Hull in KABUL, Rohullah Anwari in KUNAR and Ahmad Elham in KUNDUZ; Editing by Bryson Hull)

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Comments (4)
Jackob wrote:
Death to those Pakistani peoples who corruptly protect The Ignorant Taliban and death to those Pakistanis who have stolen the funding from the rest of the world which was intended for the poor people of Pakistan. The world does not trust the Pakistani government. The world despairs of The Taliban. The Taliban know that they will not be able to adapt to the modern world. They are ancient world people who think nothing of killing a human being to save their primitive way of life. They abuse Islam to hide behind it. It’s their excuse for their fear. They persuade the young who have no access to news in the outside world to commit their crimes. The greedy and bad old men force the ignorant young to do their ungodly bloodshed. They destroy the hopes of decent, innocent families. The entire world says that the Kabul Government is the second most corrupt government in the world. But this undeserving government is better than The Taliban because it permits a chance for Freedom, a chance for the joy of music which lifts the soul towards God. The finest earthly souls have created God’s music on earth to give heart to human beings and to help them to continue and create beauty and do good works for others. I hope the Afghani government this time does not throw out the elected females merely because they speak their own minds for the sake of others like them. The mothers are the builders, the mothers need education to educate their sons, the men are the procreators and protectors, but The Taliban are the fearful and ignorant destroyers because they are afraid of the modern world.

Sep 18, 2010 1:51am EDT  --  Report as abuse
That was a fantastic comment Jackob and I agree with you fully. I’m curious as to who the “Most” corrupt government in the world is as you refer to their’s as “second” most corrupt?

I’m thinking…..perhaps the U.S.? :)

Sep 18, 2010 10:36am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Randy549 wrote:
According to the 2009 corruption perception rankings published by Transparency International, Somalia ranks as the most corruptly-perceived government, followed by Afganistan.

@screennameisbs, the U.S. ranks 161st. New Zealand was ranked with the least perception of corruption at 180.

Note that the rankings are not perfect, as they are based on surveys of people within each country using questions such as “do you trust the government.” That’s why it’s called the corruption perception index as opposed to the corruption index.

Sep 18, 2010 11:17am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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