Afghanistan

Undelivered Ballots Delay Afghan Election Results

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In Afghanistan, the first results of last week's presidential and provincial council elections are due to be announced Tuesday. But millions of ballots are still making their way to the capital, Kabul. That leaves some questions as to when the election commission will be able to give preliminary results.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We should be getting preliminary results of the presidential election in Afghanistan sometime this week, possibly as early as tomorrow. Millions of ballots are still making their way to the capital, Kabul. In the meantime, allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing are growing. NPR's Jackie Northam is in Afghanistan, and she's been covering the elections, joins us now from Kabul. Good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Have election officials given any sense of how many ballots have actually gotten to Kabul, and actually why it's taking so long to get the rest there?

NORTHAM: Well, they say that more than 60 percent of the ballots have made it to the main election center here in Kabul, but the rest are just coming in very slowly, whether they're coming in by horseback or donkey or helicopter. And as you know, some of these roads are extremely dangerous, and there have already been a couple of attacks on the convoys. Three election workers have also been killed.

But the commission says it's taking a lot longer than they thought to actually process the ballots once they reach the capital. We'll see. It's looking increasingly unlikely, though, that the final results will hit their target date of mid-September because there are so many complaints of fraud and ballot stuffing, and each of those complaints has to be investigated before the final results are certified.

MONTAGNE: It seems that a lot of these claims are coming from one of the main candidates, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. He's been saying that there was widespread vote rigging by the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai. How credible are those allegations? Certainly, we're hearing about stuffed ballot boxes. It's just hard to tell so far who might be doing that.

NORTHAM: Right. Well, Dr. Abdullah has logged more than 100 complaints of fraud against President Karzai, but really hasn't provided any evidence to back up those complaints. There are more credible allegations coming in from the field about intimidation or interference or vote rigging. The election's complaints commission said yesterday that so far there have been about 225 complaints, and there have been no specific charges against Karzai amongst them.

MONTAGNE: Now that violence that kept people away from the polling stations, it has meant a low turnout in some parts of the country. Have you a sense yet of how low that voter turnout was?

NORTHAM: Right. A lot of the, you know, the sense of the low voter turnout was anecdotal - people, you know, reporting in from the field and that type of thing. In the beginning, you know, some of these election commission officials said, you know, they thought that there was a 40 to 50 percent turnout. So it's been very confused, the actual number. But I spoke with the head of the commission yesterday, and he chastised anybody saying that they knew or had a sense of what the turnout is because that - nobody will know until those ballots are processed.

He described that figure of 50 percent as optimistic. And when I pushed him about whether he'd talked to election officials throughout the country, they told him yes, voter turnout was very low in many places, and particularly in the south and the east of the country. So we'll see if the ballot boxes from those areas reflect that once they arrive back here in Kabul.

MONTAGNE: Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking to NPR's Jackie Northam, who's in Kabul.

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Fraud Complaints Could Affect Afghan Elections

Photo Gallery: Afghanistan Votes

David Gilkey/NPR

The American chairman of the commission investigating complaints about last Thursday's presidential polls in Afghanistan says some of the charges his team is reviewing are serious enough to affect the outcome.

At a news conference, Grant Kippen said the election complaints commission he chairs received 225 complaints from around Afghanistan.

Kippen said the allegations contained in the complaints they've received so far range from voter intimidation, violence, ballot box tampering and interference of non-independent election commission officials at the polls. Other complaints he noted included polling centers not opening and problems with the indelible ink used as a fraud-prevention measure to keep voters from casting ballots more than once.

Kippen said the more serious charges they're looking into came from provinces where Taliban gun and bomb attacks affected voter turnout and prevented independent monitors from going to the polls.

He said that 35 of the complaints could be significant enough to alter the final results.

"But I think it's important to point out that in order to do a proper investigation, we require as much information as possible about these particular irregularities." Kippen says it's not enough to just say there was voting fraud somewhere.

It's been difficult to do a full investigation, though, because of delays in moving ballots. Traveling with the ballots to the Afghan Independent Election Commission headquarters in Kabul are even more complaints from individual polling centers, adding further to the delay.

Some boxes are being brought in from remote areas by donkey or on horseback. Others are traveling on dangerous roads. Already, there have been two attacks on convoys carrying election material. Three election workers have been killed, and ballots — that had already been counted — were burned.

Preliminary election results are expected as early as Tuesday, although Kippen said it's too early to set any final date for certifying the results.

A candidate has to garner at least 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a runoff election. The two main presidential contenders, the incumbent President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, have both claimed they are ahead in the vote counting.

U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke met with the leading candidates on Friday and urged them against prematurely claiming victory.

Daoud Ali Najafi, the head of Afghanistan's election commission, said no one can predict who will win the election or whether there will be a runoff until all the ballots are back in Kabul.

Najafi also said it's impossible to gauge voter turnout at this point. He did say the 50 percent turnout rate that some people have claimed is "optimistic." Najafi said he's talked to polling officials in many districts who have reported a very low turnout.

Voting was considerably low in the south and the east of the country, where Karzai draws much of his support. Conversely, voter turnout was great in the north where Abdullah has a strong political base. These uneven voting patterns draw into question the legitimacy of the elections and any new government that may be formed.

Holbrooke, in an interview with The Associated Press, cautioned against rushing to judgment on the credibility of the election until the complaints process has run its course.

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