Afghanistan tackling almost 4,000 poll complaints

Afghanistan’s electoral watchdog said Wednesday it was tackling almost 4,000 complaints over the parliamentary election, which has been tainted by accusations of fraud and Taliban intimidation.

Election officials said 4.3 million Afghans braved insurgent threats and attacks to vote Saturday in their second parliamentary poll since the 2001 US-led invasion overthrew the hardline Taliban regime.

Counting has been completed in most of the country’s 34 provinces and partial results — subject to change as allegations of multiple and proxy voting are investigated — are being sent to Kabul for validation.

An announcement on preliminary results is expected on October 9 with final results due October 30, according to vote organisers.

The Election Complaints Commission (ECC) said it had received 2,064 complaints relating to irregularities on polling day after a Tuesday deadline for submissions expired.

ECC commissioner and spokesman Ahmad Zia Rafaat told AFP that 1,700 official complaints had been adjudicated relating to the pre-election process that began in April — bringing the total number so far to 3,764.

Afghans can register complaints about any part of the electoral process within three days of an alleged irregularity, and many more are expected over problems with the post-election process, such as vote counting.

“We keep receiving complaints every day,” said Rafaat.

President Hamid Karzai, who cancelled a planned visit to the UN General Assembly to monitor the elections, met heads of the ECC and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the UN envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura.

“Afghan people’s votes must obtain its tranparency so that it yields a parliament which manifests people’s will,” said a statement from his office.

Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and Karzai’s main contender in last year’s presidential election, expressed “concern” about possible fraud.

He cautioned the ECC, the ICC and everyone involved in the process that if reported fraud and complaints are not dealt with, it will erode people’s trust in nascent democracy in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

“It’s still possible to prevent fraud, restore people’s trust in elections by dealing with complaints, dealing with widespread fraud that is said to have taken place in some areas,” he said.

More than a million ballots were found to be fraudulent in the August 2009 poll that returned Karzai for a second five-year term.

More than 2,500 candidates stood for the 249 seats in parliament’s lower house, or Wolesi Jirga, but at least 1,300 polling centres were unable to open because security could not be guaranteed.

Afghanistan’s main election observation body, the Free and Fair Election Foundation (FEFA) fielded 7,000 observers, and detailed thousands of vote day irregularities, including use of fake voter cards and bias of election workers.

The Asia Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) released a report Wednesday saying the election was “marred by a series of security threats and misconduct” including political interference by local strong men in the provinces.

ANFREL said there were problems with a shortage of ballot papers, multiple

and proxy voting, as well as problems with indelible ink — supposed to guard against a person voting more than once — that could be washed off.

“We call upon the ECC and PECC to enforce electoral justice by investigating all complaints and concerns of the election stakeholders through proper adjudication channel; fair and transparent process,” the report said.

ANFREL is a Bangkok-based regional network of election monitoring and human rights organisations which works to promote and support democracy within Asia, according to its website.