Afghan Election Results Stir Up New Controversy

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Afghanistan's Election Commission Chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi speaks during a press conference

Afghanistan's Election Commission Chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi, shown during a news conference earlier this year, told reporters this week that the election had "shortcomings," but called it "a great success for the people of Afghanistan." Musadeq Sadeq/AP hide caption

toggle caption Musadeq Sadeq/AP

Afghanistan has held four elections since the ouster of the Taliban nine years ago, each one fraught with controversy and allegations of fraud.

Results from the latest one were announced on Wednesday, sparking street protests on behalf of disqualified candidates, and threats of an investigation from the country's attorney general.

The United States and the European Union say the vote was flawed but credible.

Some analysts say the taint of fraud is eroding many Afghans' faith in democracy.

There's apparently no one in Afghanistan who believes the September parliamentary election was free and fair.

The most optimistic note was struck on Wednesday by the head of the country's Independent Election Commission, Fazel Ahmad Manawi. Manawi told a roomful of reporters that the election had "shortcomings," but called it "a great success for the people of Afghanistan."

Manawi was announcing results nearly two months after the parliamentary elections, and even then, they weren't complete. He said the vote count from Ghazni province, southwest of the capital, wasn't finished because of what he said were "technical problems."

The trouble goes far beyond technical problems, says Fabrizio Foschini, a researcher at the independent Afghanistan Analysts Network.  "What the Afghans think is that these elections were probably the worst we had until now," he says.

Foschini cites what he says were "widespread and massive" cases of vote fraud throughout the country, including ballot box stuffing, intimidation and vote buying.

Abdullah Abdullah, who lost to President Karzai in last year's controversial presidential race, charged that the real problem was government pressure on the commissions that ran and monitored the election.

"Unfortunately there were not just problems in the activities of both commissions, but also the government blatantly interfered in the work of commissions," he said.

Abdullah pointed to the activities of Afghanistan's attorney general, Mohammad Ishaq Alako. Alako held a news conference after the votes were announced to charge that the election was "bought and sold" by Afghans with money in Dubai and on the Kabul foreign currency exchange.

Alako's office has since made several arrests of people accused of involvement in large-scale election fraud.

The Electoral Complaints Commission, whose job it is to monitor the elections, says it received almost 5,000 complaints of irregularities, about half of them considered "serious."

The commission disqualified some two dozen candidates, most of them winners, on the grounds of alleged vote fraud, and said they could not appeal their disqualifications.

One of the disqualified candidates, Masood Bakhtawar, says he was never told why his name was dropped from the list, insisting that, unlike many successful candidates for parliamentary seats, he was not a warlord or a corrupt official.

Supporters of candidates like Bakhtawar protested in the streets of several Afghan cities, demanding that they be reinstated.

Foschini, the political analyst, says no one knows what will happen in the next few days.

"Some people really see the possibility of the election results being rejected, and even the possibility of a new election, which is completely crazy," he says.

Foschini says the real danger is that the tainted election is eroding Afghans' faith in the democratic process.

He faults the international community, saying the allies failed to take this election seriously enough to protect its integrity. And, he says, the only way to ensure that future elections won't go the same way is for the international community to help build Afghanistan's political institutions.



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