Fraud Accusations Follow Afghan Elections, Again

Ballot counting continues in Afghanistan, where parliamentary elections were held Saturday. There was scattered violence across the country, and participation was lower than in last year's presidential poll. Despite hundreds of reported irregularities, Afghan government and international officials have proclaimed the elections a success.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Ballot counting continues in Afghanistan, after parliamentary elections yesterday that saw scattered violence across the country. Even in the more stable areas, participation was much slower than in last year's presidential poll.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Kabul that despite hundreds of reported irregularities, Afghan government and international officials have proclaimed the elections a success.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Taliban insurgents had vowed to derail the parliamentary elections. The Islamist movement's dominance in a dozen provinces made it impossible to even open about a thousand polling stations. Scores of rocket and bomb attacks across the country discouraged some voters, but the insurgents did not achieve the sort of spectacular attacks that authorities had been braced for, and 3.6 million Afghans did turn out to vote.

In central Kabul, Fayruza, who uses only one name, said she came out to show support for a woman candidate.

FAYRUZA: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Electing the right parliament will bring peace to Afghanistan, she said.

But her opinion of the parliament is more charitable than many. Abdul Matin, an employee at the education ministry, said he didn't vote.

Mr. ABDUL MATIN (Employee, Education Ministry): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: The parliament has done nothing but suck the blood of the Afghan people, he said, noting that many of the same former warlords will probably be reelected.

Officials logged hundreds of complaints, including allegations of ballot stuffing and people voting multiple times with different identity cards.

The Afghan government, NATO officials and U.S. diplomats all congratulated the Afghan people on a successful election. But according to independent candidate for parliament, Ramazan Bashardost, neither the Karzai administration nor the international community really wants a truly honest parliament that might scrutinize the government here.

Mr. RAMAZAN BASHARDOST: I am absolutely sure that the America embassy staff, they don't want to have an honest (unintelligible) parliament. Because if you have honest parliament, this parliament asks where do you spend $40 billion that Afghanistan received since nine years?

LAWRENCE: With the levels of violence and potential for fraud, some had wondered if it was right to hold this election at all. Mark Sedwill, the senior NATO civilian representative in Kabul, said the choice was clear.

Mr. MARK SEDWILL (Senior NATO Civilian Representative): We're holding this election in the most challenging circumstances imaginable. The issue is, is it better to help the Afghans hold an election, try and keep some confidence in the democratic process or abandon it? Talk to the two-and-a-half thousand candidates who run in this election and the millions of Afghans who are turning out to vote in it, they think it's right to go ahead.

LAWRENCE: It will take weeks for the ballots to be hand counted and to settle what may be hundreds of disputes over the election results. It will be late October before Afghanistan finds out the shape of its new parliament and the effect that may have on the government in Kabul, the war with the Taliban and the U.S.-led military mission here.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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