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Voter fraud claims abound after Afghan elections

It will take weeks to determine a final tally in parliamentary races. Some monitoring groups consider the mere fact that balloting took place a positive sign.

September 21, 2010|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • Workers unload ballot boxes at the Independent Election Commission warehouse in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Workers unload ballot boxes at the Independent Election Commission warehouse… (Paula Bronstein, Getty…)

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Complaints of fraud mounted in Afghanistan on Monday, two days after parliamentary elections meant to shore up the country's fragile democracy. But all sides said it was too soon to tell whether voting irregularities had significantly tainted the outcome of the balloting.

The oversight panel that will investigate reports of electoral misconduct said it expected to receive about 3,000 complaints during a three-day reporting period. A final vote tally, which will reflect the resolution of those grievances, will take weeks.

Meanwhile, reports from election observers who visited polling places around the country depicted a flawed voting process rife with intimidation not only by the Taliban, but also by warlords and other armed factions. But some monitoring groups said the mere fact that the balloting went ahead despite threats and attacks was a positive sign.

"Afghanistan's 2010 electoral process has demonstrated that millions of Afghans … are committed to ensuring that the nation's government reflects the will of the people," said the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, which fielded one of the largest foreign observer missions.

The election came against a backdrop of the continuing push by the NATO force to stabilize Afghanistan's volatile south. Progress around the main southern city of Kandahar has been slower than expected, and it remains unclear whether there will be any significant gains between now and an end-of-year assessment planned by the Obama administration.

Western military officials reported that a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force was killed in the south Monday, but did not disclose the nationality. The pace of combat fatalities slowed slightly in August after hitting the highest levels of the nine-year war in June and July.

In the key southern province of Helmand, British troops marked a bittersweet milestone, formally handing over responsibility for a northern district that accounted for nearly one-third of the 337 British combat fatalities in Afghanistan. American forces will now be responsible for the Sangin district, where Britons had been stationed since 2006.

The British soldiers from Sangin will be reassigned to an area in central Helmand. Britain has 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, the second-largest force among the international contingents, after the United States.

"Our troops have done a magnificent job. They have transformed Sangin," British Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday. "But it's right to make this decision because we should be concentrating our forces where they can have the greatest possible impact. We should be sharing the burden fairly with our allies."

Assessing the fairness of Saturday's election is a baggage-laden affair, in the wake of a presidential election last summer that was mired in fraud. Since then, public anger has intensified over corruption within President Hamid Karzai's government.

The main Afghan monitoring organization, the Free and Fair Election Foundation, hailed the performance of security forces in safeguarding the vote but pointedly called on Karzai to not impede rigorous investigation of reported irregularities. Serious cases of fraud should be referred to prosecutors, the group added.

Within hours of the closing of polls, Karzai and other senior members of his administration depicted the vote as a success. However, presidential spokesman Waheed Omar on Monday acknowledged that "as far as the quality of the election is concerned … this is too early to judge."

The Taliban movement, meanwhile, declared that low turnout had rendered the voting meaningless.

"The people of Afghanistan did not participate in these elections, and by doing so proved to the invaders and their puppets their disapproval of this fake and rigged process," the group said in a statement posted on its website.

laura.king@latimes.com

Times staff writer Henry Chu in London contributed to this report.

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