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September 8, 2009
Ballot box stuffing in Afghan election
As if we don't have enough headaches in Afghanistan, it appears that up to 800 polling places existed on paper only during the election last month and that supporters of President Karzai used them to add tens of thousands of ballots to the president's totals.
In addition, according to this New York Times article by Dexter Filkins and Carolotta Gall, there was other electoral mischief by Karzai supporters:
Besides creating the fake sites, Mr. Karzai's supporters also took over approximately 800 legitimate polling centers and used them to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr. Karzai, the officials said.
The result, the officials said, is that in some provinces, the pro-Karzai ballots may exceed the people who actually voted by a factor of 10. "We are talking about orders of magnitude," the senior Western diplomat said.
The widening accounts of fraud pose a stark problem for the Obama administration, which has 68,000 American troops deployed here to help reverse gains by Taliban insurgents. American officials hoped that the election would help turn Afghans away from the Taliban by giving them a greater voice in government. Instead, the Obama administration now faces the prospect of having to defend an Afghan administration for the next five years that is widely seen as illegitimate.
"This was fraud en masse," the Western diplomat said.
According to the Los Angeles Times , Afghan election officials have already disqualified ballots from 450 polling places:
Election authorities declined to say how many votes were affected when results from nearly 450 polling places were set aside pending an investigation. Because voting took place in about 26,000 locales, this probably represents only a small share of total ballots cast. But the move could herald more such disqualifications.
The Aug. 20 vote -- which began as not only a hopeful exercise in democracy but also a key element of the West's long-term strategy of a stable Afghan government taking on more security responsibilities -- is rapidly threatening to become a debacle. Supporters of Karzai's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, could react violently if they see their candidate as having been unfairly deprived of the chance to face Karzai in a runoff.
Abdullah, a former foreign minister, has accused the president's camp of widespread and systematic fraud. It was unclear whether the vote disqualification announced Sunday signaled election officials' genuine willingness to act on fraud allegations, which have mainly been directed at Karzai, or whether the panel of mostly presidential appointees was trying to bolster an image of impartiality as a prelude to declaring Karzai the winner.
Karzai already has trouble exerting control much beyond a small radius surrounding Kabul. Having a president whose legitimacy is questioned will only serve the interests of the Taliban whose anti-corruption platform may become even more attractive to Afghans tired of the sleaze.