Fraud accounts cloud Afghan vote

With just over a third of the vote counted, Karzai expanded his lead with 46 pc of vote

Posters of presidential and provincial council candidates are pasted on a power pillar in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday. AP
When he protested, the other election officials told him to let it go; when he refused, he was taken away by the local tribal chieftain’s bodyguards.
Now, he is in hiding and receiving threats, he said. And the village’s polling place is under investigation in one of the most serious reports of fraud that officials worry could affect the results of the country’s August 20 elections — in this case, as in many others, in favour of President Hamid Karzai.
Afghan election officials said on Sunday that the serious fraud reports that they were considering had suddenly doubled — to 550 from 270, in a development likely to stoke public outrage and perhaps even delay the official results past September.
Western officials say they are increasingly ill at ease with the prospect of a national government in limbo even while American and Nato troops are pressed by the Taliban in a new phase of war that commanders concede is not going well.

Politics in Afghanistan works through a system of tribal, factional and ethnic networks in which power brokers organise support for a candidate in return for money, power or position. Yet this election has surpassed previous ones in the scale of bribery, corruption of election officials, ballot stuffing and altering the count, election observers and political analysts said. With just over a third of the vote counted as of Sunday, Karzai had expanded his lead with about 46 per cent of the vote, election officials said. His main rival Abdullah was reported to have just over 31 percent.
But as the reports of fraud widen, the legitimacy of any results is coming under increased question. The reports from this sprawling settlement of mud-walled houses show why.

Opponents of Karzai have accused the local member of Parliament, Hajji Mullah Tarakhel Mohammadi, of organising the ballot stuffing in Pul-i-Charkhi in order to deliver thousands of votes in favour of Karzai.
Mullah Tarakhel, 30, a colourful tribal figure whose nickname is Crazy Tarakhel, denied any ballot stuffing in an interview at his home. But he said he had urged his tribe to vote for  Karzai. Mullah Tarakhel is a leader of the Kuchi tribe, traditionally nomadic Pashtuns estimated to number more than a million people, and he boasted that across 18 districts of Kabul Province, Kuchis produced 180,000 votes for Karzai. Just in this dusty settlement on the eastern edge of the capital city, nearly 50,000 people voted, so many that they needed more ballots, he said.
But those claims were put in doubt after a British journalist, Tom Coghlan of The Times of London, visited the settlement, just half an hour from the centre of the city, on the morning of the elections. Coghlan arrived at the Hajji Janat Gul High School an hour after the polls had opened, and found no voters. But he did find 12 ballot boxes already full. The lists indicated 5,530 people had already voted, an impossibility in such a short time.

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