Afghan election audit ends, but no results yet

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 9, 2009 

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The audit of Afghanistan's presidential vote ended Friday, seven weeks after the disputed election gave incumbent President Hamid Karzai 54.6 percent of the vote. A certified result is days away, however, and patience is wearing thin.

Analysts are warning about a possible outbreak of political violence, especially in the north of the country.

Investigators suspect that there may have been widespread fraud in the Aug. 20 vote. Karzai claimed thousands more votes in some provinces than estimated turnout, for example.

The U.N.-appointed Electoral Complaints Commission is reviewing a sample of 10 percent of about 3,000 ballot boxes that each contained more than 600 votes or in which single candidates received 95 percent or more of the votes. That agency will send the audit results to the government's Independent Election Commission, which then must calculate and certify the result.

"It will take a few days," said Nellika Little at the Electoral Complaints Commission. "Maybe mid-next week, maybe a little later."

If the audit nullifies enough ballots, Karzai's share of the ballots could drop below 50 percent and trigger a second round of voting.

The question of Karzai's legitimacy poses a problem for the Obama administration, which is engaged in a review of strategy in the region. President Barack Obama and top advisers met Friday to discuss counterinsurgency efforts, including increasing the number of American troops in the country.

Tension is rising in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul, where a Taliban suicide bomber killed 17 people and wounded dozens Thursday. It was the second major suicide blast in Kabul in a month.

Police are warning of more trouble ahead.

"This delay in the election process, if they keep delaying it there will be more things happening," said Gen. Sayed Abdul Ghafar Sayed Zada, the head of criminal investigation for the Afghan National Police.

Analysts said there was a growing risk of an outbreak of political violence in the north, especially in Balkh province, which borders Uzbekistan. Although the province was calm until six months ago, there have been recent reports that minority Pashtun communities known to favor Karzai have been arming to defend themselves.

Gov. Atta Mohammed Noor backed former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah for the presidency, and Noor has threatened violence if a fraudulent win for Karzai is allowed to stand.

"No domestic or foreign power can stop people from their right to express their resentment against the vote-rigging in the presidential elections," Noor said recently.

Kabul's Ministry of the Interior responded with a statement calling the fraud accusations baseless. "These charges are politically motivated," it said.

Abdullah has renounced violence, and Martine Van Bijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a policy-research organization, said that politically, it wasn't a rational option for Abdullah.

In Noor's case, however, it might be different. He can expect Karzai to replace him, and he'll have enemies after many years ruling with a firm hand, among them warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, a Karzai ally who's been accused of human rights abuses.

On Friday, Noor said he thought that a second round of voting was necessary and he called for the removal of all government ministers and for the head of the Supreme Court to replace Karzai while it takes place.

"If Karzai wins with a transparent vote from the people, I will congratulate him," Atta said through an interpreter. "But if he wins with fraudulent votes, that election won't have legitimacy and I won't accept it."

(Davison is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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