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Afghan Ballot Boxes Set Aside

Some may eventually be excluded after charges of vote fraud, the chief election officer says.

October 03, 2005|From Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ballot boxes from hundreds of polling stations in Afghanistan's parliamentary elections have been quarantined due to suspected vote fraud, the chief electoral officer said Sunday.

Peter Erben of the joint United Nations-Afghan election body said it was reviewing the reported irregularities and would announce "tough action" this week on whether to exclude some ballot boxes from the vote count.

He stressed that the reports of fraud were localized and wouldn't undermine the credibility of the Sept. 18 election, a key step in Afghanistan's transition to democracy after more than two decades of war.

About 4% of ballot boxes have been quarantined.

"I do not find the irregularities alarming, but it should give us concern," Erben said at a news conference. "There will be tough action taken."

On Friday, European Union election observers reported "worrying cases of fraud," including ballot stuffing, proxy voting and possible voter intimidation.

They said the problems did not appear to be nationwide, but urged the election administration to deal with them transparently.

About 6.8 million Afghans voted at 26,240 polling stations for new national and provincial assemblies. The vote count is about 80% complete. Final results are due Oct. 22.

The election process has been overshadowed by concerns that a number of warlords accused of serious human rights abuses were allowed to run for office.

Regions under particular scrutiny are eastern Paktika province, where Erben said 271 polling stations are under review, and Paghman district of Kabul province, where 90 polling stations are being investigated.

Paghman is a stronghold of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a powerful former guerrilla leader and Muslim extremist suspected of having had links to Al Qaeda.

Sayyaf is fourth in the vote count for Kabul and appears set to win one of the capital's 33 seats in the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga, the national assembly.

A separate commission has the power to disqualify a candidate found to have cheated.

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