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Stories Of Voter Intimidation Mount In Afghanistan

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Stories Of Voter Intimidation Mount In Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Stories Of Voter Intimidation Mount In Afghanistan

Stories Of Voter Intimidation Mount In Afghanistan

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/112141931/112141925" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Both major candidates for president of Afghanistan claim to be leading the vote count, as stories of violence and intimidation at polling places continue to emerge. Guy Raz speaks with Jean MacKenzie, a correspondent for GlobalPost.com and the director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Afghanistan, about the election and its aftermath.

GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Each of the two major candidates in Afghanistan's presidential elections said today that he got the most votes. If neither man gets the majority, there will be a run-off likely between incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his leading rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Preliminary results have been promised by Tuesday, but the official tally won't be finalized until next month. The European Union and the U.S. are hailing the elections as a success, but several monitoring groups say the vote has been marred by intimidation and violence by the Taliban, and widespread fraud.

Jean MacKenzie is in the country's capital, Kabul. She is a correspondent for GlobalPost.com and the Afghanistan director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. She says there's not much doubt on the streets of the city about how the count will end up.

Ms. JEAN MACKENZIE (Reporter, GlobalPost.com): It is very much a done deal. I don't think there is much doubt that Hamid Karzai will end up president for another five years. The only questions we have now is whether he will have to go into a run-off against the second highest vote-getter, which is, as you've said, is likely to be Dr. Abdullah.

RAZ: Jean, we're hearing from some officials in Afghanistan, western officials, that this election has gone off better than expected, not much violence, high voter turnout, a free and fair process. Is that what you've been seeing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MACKENZIE: No, it's very far from the perception of people who have been intimately involved in the process, I would say. I think the threshold of success for this election has been getting lower and lower. At the beginning, we were talking about a free and fair election, then a credible election, and then the vague term successful election.

I don't know what they mean by success. There was widespread violence on Thursday. We don't know how many people were killed, there were at least 30. But since there was a news blackout on reporting of violence on election day, we may never know how many incidents of violence there were and how many...

RAZ: This is the news blackout that Afghan reporters were not allowed to report on violence. Is that what you were referring to?

Ms. MACKENZIE: Yes. Well, the direction from the Afghan government was that international and Afghan media were not allowed to report on violence. That was widely ignored. But we really do not have full figures on what happened on election day.

RAZ: What about fraud? What about allegations of fraud?

Ms. MACKENZIE: Again, we may never really know. Afghanistan is a country without a valid census, where they've only recently started distributing birth certificates. So, we do not know how many actual voters are out there. So it's going to be very difficult to measure the turnout.

What we do know is that turnout was extremely light, every place that we were able to observe. And many, many places in the country were so insecure that there were no observers. Nevertheless, we're hearing very unbelievable reports of voter turnout says 50 percent or more in places where there was very likely a turnout of 10 percent or less. That would mean that we've got massive fraud as far as the vote count goes.

RAZ: How would that work? I mean, these votes are being bundled up and handed in or in a different way?

Ms. MACKENZIE: Yes. Very much, they're being bundled up and handed in. We have had reports from various parts of the country in the west, the south and the southeast that tribal leaders have been taking people's voter registrations cards for the past few months, telling them that this will qualify them for some form of assistance, wheat or cooking oil.

They've been making copies of those voter registration cards. And all you need in order to vote is the number of a voter registration card. You don't need to sign anything. You don't need to leave a thumbprint. You just need a number. So chances are the tribal leaders were able to cast ballots for just about everyone who was registered.

RAZ: Jean, when you've been able to observe people voting in some of these voting stations, do they seem excited? I mean, the people you've been talking to, are they optimistic about what's taking place?

Ms. MACKENZIE: The people who are at the voting station are in the minority. And they are the people who cared enough or were brave enough to come out. But even those people, the people we talked to seemed to think that this was an election whose results were predetermined that it was an election that had been forecast and foreordained, if you will, by the international community.

And their vote was more a gesture of defiance, if you will, or a gesture of, we are going to take control of our country, than it was a gesture of hope.

RAZ: Jean MacKenzie is a correspondent for GlobalPost.com and the Afghanistan director for the Institute for War and peace Reporting. She joined us on the line from Kabul.

Jean, thanks so much.

Ms. MACKENZIE: Thank you, Guy.

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Fraud Allegations Taint Afghanistan's Ballot Count

Ballots in the Afghan presidential election are being counted, with both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, claiming they are in the lead.

Preliminary results are not expected until Tuesday at the earliest, officials say, and final results are not expected until early September. If neither man gains 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will follow.

Photo Gallery: Voting

David Gilkey/NPR

Karzai's campaign spokesman, Waheed Omar, said they believe "we are well ahead" in the vote count based on reports the campaign has received.

Abdullah said his campaign's tallies suggest that a second round of voting is likely.

"These are very preliminary results, but still it puts me in the lead," he said. "It's not claiming victory. I'm saying in these early days and early preliminary results, I'm very happy."

On Saturday, one of the long-shot presidential candidates displayed torn and mangled ballot papers that he said had been cast for him and tossed away by election workers who support Karzai.

Mirwais Yasini, a parliamentarian, stood behind a table piled with ballot papers that he said his supporters found ditched outside Spin Boldak city in southern Kandahar province. The ballots bore the stamp of the Independent Election Commission, which is applied only after the ballots are used for voting.

"Thousands of them were burned," he said.

Though monitors with the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan were present in all 34 provinces, international monitoring groups were restricted by security concerns. The Washington, D.C.-based National Democratic Institute had observers in only 19 provinces, passing over many violent areas of the south and east.

An Afghan vote monitoring group said Taliban militants in Afghanistan's south cut off the fingers of two Afghan voters, carrying out a gruesome pre-election threat.

Nader Nadery of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan said Saturday that two voters in southern Kandahar province — the Taliban's spiritual birthplace — lost their fingers.

Nadery said the two fingers sliced off had been dipped in purple indelible ink, an anti-fraud measure — but one that identified voters to militants in dangerous, insurgent-held areas.

Rumors that militants would cut off fingers spread before Thursday's presidential vote. A Taliban spokesman said, however, that militants would not carry out such attacks.

U.S. and European officials praised the election, but some observers say there was widespread fraud.

One of those observers is Jean MacKenzie of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a British-based charity that helps develop local media.

"What we do know is that turnout was extremely light wherever we were able to observe," MacKenzie told NPR. "Nevertheless, we're hearing very unbelievable reports of voter turnout of 50 percent or more in places where there was likely voter turnouts of 10 percent or less. That would mean we've got massive fraud as far as the vote count goes."

MacKenzie said there were numerous reports of tribal leaders taking voter registration cards from Afghan citizens with the promise of cooking oil or wheat.

"All you need in order to vote is the number of a voter registration card. You don't need to sign anything, you don't need to leave a thumbprint. You just need a number. ... Tribal leaders were able to cast ballots."

Weeks before the vote, NPR reporters and producers were shown a dozen voter registration cards that were purchased in a local bazaar.

"If Afghans feel the election was legitimate by their standards, it will be a sign of major progress regardless of how outsiders judge the mechanics," said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cordesman just returned from Afghanistan where he was among a group of defense experts advising the top commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

"If they divide in anger along ethnic or sectarian lines, and if the end result is more divisive than unifying, the election will be a failure," Cordesman said. "It will inevitably mean they see the government as distant, corrupt and ineffective, and that the election has empowered the Jihadists. As a result, the way any runoff is handled or how Afghans react in the aftermath of a direct Karzai re-election will be far more important than the mechanics of the count."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.