U.N. panel orders recounts of 1 in 10 Afghan polling stations

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 15, 2009 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Amid continuing charges of massive fraud in Afghanistan's presidential elections, a United Nations-backed complaints commission has ordered a recount of nearly 10 percent of the 26,000 polling stations, members of the commission said Tuesday.

The recount is expected to strip away votes from incumbent President Hamid Karzai, but it isn't clear whether it will reduce them enough to force Karzai into a runoff with his principal challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

According to an initial tally released by the Afghan Independent Election Commission, which Karzai appointed, the president currently has more than 54 percent of the vote. If the recount pushes him back below 50 percent, then Karzai would face Abdullah in a runoff that would be scheduled for some time this fall or in the spring.

The Aug. 20 election pitted an unpopular Karzai against Abdullah and more than 40 other candidates. The U.S. and Western nations pouring troops and money into Afghanistan had hoped the election would yield a winner who could unify the country. However, wide-ranging fraud allegations have shaken the Afghan political system, established after the Taliban's ouster in 2001.

The election commission members say they have conducted a fair, impartial election, despite charges by Abdullah that they had aided Karzai.

McClatchy reported Saturday that the commission in late August had approved wide-ranging standards to ferret out fraud, but early last week lowered its standards after concluding that observing them would reduce Karzai's vote to under 50 percent.

A second election commission, backed by the U.N., and with a majority of foreign appointees, has been monitoring the Karzai-appointed election commission. On Sept. 8, a day after the other commission's vote to relax the standards, it cited "clear and convincing evidence" of fraud, and ordered the recount.

Although the complaints commission's action affects at least 2,600 polling stations, many of them had substantially higher turnouts than average, possibly because of ballot-box stuffing. The overall percentage of the vote affected could be considerably higher than 10 percent.

Many of the polling stations that will be subject to recount are in southern Afghanistan, which have been traditional strongholds for Karzai. Others, however, are spread across the country, including in the north, where Abdullah has acknowledged that some of his supporters may have inflated his vote count.

(Bernton reports for The Seattle Times.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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