Fraud Allegations Grow In Afghan Elections

Last week's Afghan presidential election is being marred by increasing allegations of election fraud. Some 270 complaints filed thus far are serious enough that — if proved — they could change the outcome of the election.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

It's now more than a week since Afghans cast ballots in their country's presidential election. Partial results have incumbent President Hamid Karzai leading his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah. But it's unclear when a final vote count will be certified. What is clear is that complaints of election fraud are growing louder and more frequent. Some 270 complaints filed thus far are serious enough that if proved, they could actually change the outcome of the election.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kabul, where she's been following election developments, and she joins us now. And Soraya, first, what sort of complaints are being filed and who's filing them?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, the - most of the complaints involve polling centers and basically the voting process itself, everything from stuffed ballot boxes to armed gunmen coming in and taking ballot boxes away to be stuffed somewhere else and that sort of thing. There are also complaints about agents not being allowed to go in and witness the process or voters being kept from voting centers. And so you have this whole range. But the ones that are obviously the most serious involve the actual voting process itself.

SIEGEL: Now, how could it have been so pervasive if there really were thousands of monitors at polling stations all over Afghanistan?

NELSON: Well, the problem is that because of the insecurity and also because of the remoteness of this country, there just weren't enough monitors who could actually get to most places. I mean, we are talking about in excess of 20,000 centers, almost 30,000 polling stations. And so to have a monitor at each one was impossible just, you know, by sheer numbers. And then again with the insecurity, a lot of the foreign monitors certainly couldn't get to places where perhaps this sort of irregularity was going to be most common.

SIEGEL: What is the process, if there is one, in Afghanistan for investigating complaints of election irregularities?

NELSON: Well, they have a commission, an Election Complaints Commission, it's called and it involves foreign advisors as well as Afghan investigators. There are 17 Afghan investigators, in fact, and seven international advisors, who are specifically looking into and investigating claims that have been sort of triaged, if you will, by the commission in general. Right now there are 270 complaints that are seen as serious enough that if they're proven, they, in fact, could change the outcome or affect the results of the election.

And so, there's a lot of work to be done and this is of course causing some concern to this commission that they get this work done as quickly and as effectively as possible.

SIEGEL: It's been a week since the election, and it doesn't sound like there's going to be a final official result anytime soon. Why will it take so long?

NELSON: Well, part of it is that it's a seven-part process that is watched by monitors, not just for the international community, but for the candidates that the Independent Election Commission has to go through with each vote. I mean, it was very difficult to get all the ballot boxes into Kabul to begin with. And I think some are, in fact, still en route. And, again, this seven-part process is taking a very long time. So right now we only have 17 percent of the vote counted, which is, you know, not enough to basically be able to draw any conclusions of where the election is going.

SIEGEL: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul, thanks a lot.

NELSON: You're welcome.

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