Videos raise new voter fraud questions in Afghanistan

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 27, 2010 

KABUL, Afghanistan — As Afghan election officials sorted through thousands of voter complaints from the recent parliamentary election, new evidence emerged Monday of apparent vote rigging in southern Afghanistan.

Video obtained by McClatchy shows a man in an Afghan border police uniform standing watch while three men appear to be stuffing votes into a ballot box.

The one-minute clip, which couldn't be independently authenticated, is one of thousands of cases that could tilt the balance of legislative races as elections officials examine the complaints and prepare to release full results in a few weeks.

The video, obtained from an Afghan politician who asked not to be identified for safety reasons, shows three men sitting on the floor filling out ballot after ballot and then stuffing them into the nearby ballot box. It shows a man in a border police uniform standing with a Kalashnikov rifle and keeping guard over the apparent ballot stuffing.

The video, the politician said, was shot in Spin Boldak, a scrappy town along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that's controlled by Abdel Razek, a feared border police commander dubbed "the Master of Spin Boldak."

The video was first aired by al Jazeera, a news network based in the Persian Gulf.

It was impossible, however, to determine who was the beneficiary of the apparent ballot stuffing.

Elections officials said Monday that they're investigating more than 3,600 complaints from the Sept. 18 election to select 249 members of the elected house of the country's bicameral parliament.

More than half the cases, the country's Electoral Complaints Commission said Monday, could tilt the balance of local races.

If the complaints process fails to win the confidence of Afghan leaders and the world community, it could undercut Afghanistan's fragile democracy and international support for it.

"It's a big concern," said Jandad Spinghar, the executive director of the Free and Fair Elections Commission of Afghanistan, the country's largest electoral watchdog organization.

"I hope elections officials will do their job well," he said. "Otherwise, there will be great concern about the legitimacy of the election."

In a statement, Razek dismissed the video and said it's easy to buy Afghan police uniforms on the open market.

This video shows a dispute between an election observer and a polling official.

A second video obtained by McClatchy shows an apparent dispute between an election watchdog and a polling place official in Kandahar province.

In the jerky, edited cell phone clip, a man identified by the source of the video as a polling place official gets into a shouting match with the election day observer representing Afghan lawmaker Khalid Pashtoon, an outspoken critic of U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"There is no place for Khalid Pashtoon," the man says in the video. "These votes are for Amir Lalai," a Karzai ally.

Pashtoon, who watched the videos with McClatchy, said they're an indication of "well-organized fraud" in Kandahar, the pivotal southern province where the U.S. military is staging an expanding offensive to cripple the Taliban in their spiritual heartland.

Pashtoon demanded that election officials disqualify any candidates involved in voter fraud.

"If they leave the election the way it is, there is no place for democracy in Afghanistan," he said. "It is gone. It is history. It is under the debris."

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Officials: Afghan corruption undermines anti-Taliban campaign

Follow Dion Nissenbaum on Twitter.

McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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