As election officials in Afghanistan continue to tally votes after a crucial parliamentary poll, fears of fraud are growing. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
So far some 3.6 million votes have been counted in the exercise that began on Sunday. However those votes represent only a small fraction of the 11.4 million Afghans eligible to cast their votes.
Reporting from the country’s capital, Kabul, Al Jazeera’s James Bays, said there were “all sorts of allegations of fraud coming from across the country”.
“We’ve people who have been able to wash the ‘indelible’ ink off their fingers; we have voter registration cards – fake ones – which were definitely used, we are told, in some areas and we have been told of some polling stations where one candidate allowed only his supporters to go inside,” he said.
According to the Independent Electoral Commission, the total number of votes cast was about four million.
Although it said three of its staff had been killed in the north of the country, it added that the process of transferring preliminary results and ballot boxes from polling stations to provincial centres was going well.
In the run-up to the balloting, fake voter cards flooded into Afghanistan, but poll workers were trained to spot them, said election officials.
On Sunday, Afghan election observers said they had serious concerns about the legitimacy of Saturday’s vote.
The Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (Fefa) said that given the insecurity and numerous complaints of fraud, there were “serious concerns about the quality of elections”.
Fefa deployed about 7,000 people around the country, making it the largest observer of the parliamentary vote.
Security concerns made many international observer groups scaled back their operations from last year.
Peter Galbraith, the former UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan, who was sacked for having complained about fraud in last year’s presidential vote, said the elections were “significantly fraudulent”.
“This is hardly the voice of the Afghan people,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Very few Afghans voted. The estimates are in the range of three million. A year ago, there were six million votes even removing the one and a half million that were fake Karzai [Afghan president] votes.”
While Galbraith made those comments, General David Petraeus, commander of Nato and US forces in Afghanistan, and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, both congratulated Afghans for their courage in participating in the elections.
“I am interested in the optimistic statements that have been made both by General Petraeus and the UN because a year ago, they were exactly the same kind of optimistic statements even though it was clear that there had been massive fraud,” Galbraith said.
The day of the vote was violent because the Taliban launched a wave of attacks aimed at disrupting the poll.
On Sunday, British defence ministry announced that two British soldiers had been killed in an explosion, but it said the deaths were unrelated to violence in the country’s election day.
“The soldiers were killed in an explosion yesterday, September 18th, during a vehicle patrol in the Lashkar Gah District of Helmand province,” the ministry said in the statement.
According to Afghanistan’s interior ministry Taliban fighters carried out 33 bomb attacks on election day, killing 11 civilians and three police officers.
The security situation did have an impact on the polls, prompting many Afghans to stay away from polling stations, said Afghan officials.
It was the second parliamentary election vote to be held in the country since the Taliban was toppled by the US-led invasion in 2001.
But releasing the results will be a long process.
“There’s an election complaints commission that’s in place [but] some are very critical of that because the rules … were changed; the structure was changed,” Al Jazeera’s James Bays said.
“It now has got a majority of Afghans … and they were appointed by Hamid Karzai and some opposition politicians say that’s not as good as the system that existed one year ago for the presidential elections.”
Karzai, who won fraud-marred elections a year ago, described Saturday’s vote as a step towards a brighter future.
“We hope nobody will be deterred by security incidents, although there will undoubtedly be some,” he said, as he cast his ballot. “This will take Afghanistan several steps forward into a brighter future.”
The 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga, were contested by more than 2,500 candidates. Among them were 406 women contesting 68 seats reserved for them under legislation designed to better their rights.
The Election Complaints Commission said it had received complaints of delayed opening, intimidation, ineligible voters, misuse of registration cards, proxy voting, poor ink quality and shortages of ballot papers.
Even though officials said the ink was the best quality indelible ink available, Afghans reported being able to rub the ink off their fingers with little effort.