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Resignation of Afghan election official raises anxiety level

The disgruntled member of the Electoral Complaints Commission cites 'foreign interference,' adding an acrimonious new element to the controversial election at a crucial moment for Afghanistan.

October 13, 2009|Laura King

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The disarray surrounding Afghanistan's presidential election deepened Monday when an Afghan member of the vote-reviewing commission quit, citing "foreign interference."

The resignation of Mustafa Barakzai from the Electoral Complaints Commission was not expected to affect the panel's work of sifting through allegations of massive vote-rigging in the Aug. 20 balloting, officials said. But it added an acrimonious new element to a vote that has already become an exercise in recrimination -- and has left Afghanistan in political limbo at a time when crucial decisions about the course of the conflict are being made in Washington.

President Obama is weighing the reported request by his top commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, to send as many as 40,000 more troops to the country. McChrystal, who took command of about 100,000 American and other NATO troops in midsummer, has said the war strategy needs to be thoroughly revamped.

Barakzai was one of two Afghan members of the commission reviewing the election. Both were appointed by Afghan officials. The panel's three foreign members -- an American, a Dutch member and the Canadian chairman -- were selected by the United Nations, whose Afghan mission is in turn embroiled in controversy over its role in addressing fraud allegations.

On Sunday, Kai Eide, head of the U.N. mission, acknowledged that widespread fraud had taken place in the election but said he believed vote-reviewing procedures would yield a result acceptable to Afghans. Barakzai's accusations, though, could heighten the sense of alienation from the political process now felt by many Afghans who braved Taliban attacks to cast ballots.

"The three foreign commissioners are making all the decisions on their own, without even informing me as a member of the commission," Barakzai told reporters.

The panel denied that Barakzai had been excluded from deliberations and said in a statement that it was disappointed at his departure.

But Barakzai's angry broadside underscored a growing rift between President Hamid Karzai and his Western patrons. The departing commissioner, though officially neutral, is considered a Karzai ally.

Speaking at a news conference a day earlier, Karzai blamed the electoral chaos on "foreign propaganda."

"There are outside elements that have interfered in our election, and are still interfering," he said, without elaborating.

A preliminary tally released soon after the balloting indicated that Karzai received 54.6% of the vote, which would have been sufficient to win outright. But the subsequent vote audit could push his total below 50%, which would trigger a runoff with his main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Election officials say they still have the logistical ability to stage a runoff, but that window could soon close. Snowy weather is likely to arrive within weeks, which would make holding a new vote difficult if not impossible. Continued fighting in the south and east would also complicate the effort.

The Electoral Complaints Commission's certification of the final vote has been subject to repeated delays, and another may now be in the offing. The commission head, Grant Kippen, said Monday that confusion over the statistical methods being used to review the vote could mean missing its target of this week's end for announcing an outcome.

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laura.king@latimes.com

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