KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai believes it is too early to judge the quality of this weekend’s parliamentary vote, his spokesman said on Monday, as the election watchdog said it expected thousands of fraud complaints.
Afghan election officials had been quick to declare Saturday’s vote a success despite reports of fraud, low voter turnout and attacks by the Taliban across the country.
But chief Karzai spokesman Waheed Omer said that while holding the election in the face of threats of violence from the Taliban and massive logistical challenges had been a great achievement, it was too early to assess its overall success.
“It is early for us to make concrete judgment ... as far as the quality of the election is concerned, and organization, this is too early to judge,” Omer told a news conference in Kabul.
“The president and government will make judgment after the relevant organizations have concluded their work,” he said, adding that Karzai had canceled a planned trip to the United Nations to follow the vote counting process.
Results of the election are being closely watched in Washington ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s planned war strategy review in December, expected to look at the speed and scope of U.S. troop withdrawals after nine years of war.
A flawed poll could 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.
On Sunday, Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, also said it was too early to describe the poll as a success, as some Afghan election officials had done when voting ended on Saturday.
Karzai’s credibility with ordinary Afghans and his Western backers is also at stake, with the memory of his fraud-riddled 2009 re-election still fresh and allegations of continuing graft in his government rankling both of his constituencies.
U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry offered an upbeat reaction to the poll in an interview broadcast on the BBC on Monday, saying he was “cautiously optimistic” the vote’s results would be accepted credible.
Afghanistan’s election watchdog, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), on Monday said it had already received more than 700 complaints and estimated that figure would reach around 3,000 as grievances poured in over the next two days.
ECC Commissioner Shah Sultan Akifi told Reuters the commission had also received some 2,000 telephone complaints but that they would have to be made in writing.
According to the electoral law, all complaints must be submitted in writing and within 72 hours of polls closing.
Complaints came in from all around the country, he said, and ranged from not having enough ballot papers at polling stations to late opening of polling centers to voters trying to vote with fake registration cards.
A leading domestic observer group, the independent Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), called for cases of serious fraud, intimidation and violence to be referred to the justice system for prosecution. “We have observed more than 300 cases of intimidation directed by the warlords, those that were linked with the illegal armed groups,” FEFA Chairman Nader Nadery told reporters.
Prior to the election, international observers had warned of an increased risk of voter intimidation, even in normally peaceful areas, as candidates competed on a provincial level and local powerbrokers tussle for influence.
Attempted fraud was also a major concern, with reports of ballot-stuffing, repeat voting and vote-buying.
The concerns about security and fraud, especially after the 2009 presidential poll in which a third of Karzai’s votes were thrown out as fakes, appeared to have an impact on turnout.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has said more than 4 million Afghans cast their votes, with some polling stations yet to submit their figures, but early signs were that almost a million fewer votes were cast than in 2009.
The final turnout figure will likely be the lowest of the four elections held in Afghanistan since the Taliban were toppled — presidential elections in 2004 and 2009 and parliamentary polls in 2005 and 2010. (Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Bryson Hull and Miral Fahmy)