Afghan Election Fraud Allegations Examined

There have been widespread allegations of fraud in the Afghan presidential elections. Ambassador Tim Carney, who led the U.S. Interagency Electoral Support Team to help Afghan authorities produce a credible election process, says the allegations of fraud are credible, but the process will ultimately winnow the fraud out.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And I'm Noah Adams.

In the latest vote counting in Afghanistan, an incumbent President Hamid Karzai appears to have a slight lead over his main rival Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister. There have been the widespread allegations of fraud since last month's vote, calling the presidential race into question.

Ambassador Tim Carney leads the U.S. Interagency Election(ph) Support Team in Afghanistan. He has just returned from Kabul. He joins us today from Montpellier, France. You were there for many months. When you see this happening, are you shaking your head saying, gosh, what happened? What else could we have done?

Ambassador TIM CARNEY (U.S. Interagency Electoral Support Team): Well, what I'm looking at here is the process, because, exceptionally, unlike the elections of five years ago for the president and four years ago for the parliament, these elections this time are totally under Afghan lead. Now, there was plenty of fraud in the parliamentary elections of 2005. Some 700 polling stations had their results annulled because of aspects of fraud. So the Afghan authorities understood from the track record what was possible, and they have taken a very large number of measures to deal with this.

ADAMS: Let me ask you a very specific question about what could've happened. And we're hearing a lot about the participation of women. Women, in many cases, being afraid to go to the polls, voting by proxy without an ID card because a photo ID is considered anathema to many in that culture. How will the people who are working on this reconstruct the women's vote in many of these places?

Amb. CARNEY: Well, the complication is very large when you look specifically at women. And then when you add the additional dimension, a very large scale potential fraud using false cards - voter registration cards - that were issued in women's names, you then run the risk of seeing whole polling centers taken over by those who are in collusion with the - I think overzealous is the charitable word - to describe some of the supporters of those for whom the votes are being stolen and the ballot boxes being stuffed.

It's a very complicated mix of cultural norms as you've just identified. But the fact is you have to dip your finger in ink. So an individual can only vote once. And that is the same for men and for women. So, women can only vote once, but you might get underage women voting. That's not a huge statistical problem.

ADAMS: You have worked in this capacity in many countries, many contested elections. Do you have this sort of secret worry about this one that the fraud could be so widespread and so confusing that the election would have to be annulled in some way?

Amb. CARNEY: I think probably the best answer to that is to look at the process to note that the Independent Election Commission has quarantined hundreds of results at this point. And that there is a follow-on process to adjudicate electoral complaints - even before the Independent Election Commission can certify the results. Yes, there is no doubt that allegations of fraud are credible. That doesn't mean that the process won't ultimately winnow the fraud out and produce a result that - and remember - this is the only test that the result be acceptable and viewed as legitimate by Afghans.

ADAMS: How do you measure that?

Amb. CARNEY: Only Afghans can measure it.

ADAMS: Ambassador Tim Carney, head of the Interagency Electoral Support Team in Afghanistan talking with us today from France. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

Amb. CARNEY: You're welcome. Glad to do it.

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