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Afghan vote challenged

Mon., Aug. 24, 2009

Abdullah alleges ‘widespread rigging’ in election

KABUL, Afghanistan – The main challenger to Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday he has received “alarming” reports of “widespread rigging” in Thursday’s presidential election by pro-government groups and officials, but he called on supporters to be patient and said he hopes the problem will be resolved through the official election review.

“The initial reports are a big cause of concern, but hopefully we can prevent fraud through legal means,” Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, said at a news conference. He said his campaign has filed more than 100 complaints of ballot-box stuffing, inflated vote counts and intimidation at the polls by Karzai partisans, often in places where threats from insurgents resulted in low voter turnout.

The allegations of fraud, combined with the slow pace of vote tabulation and the cumbersome process for investigating complaints, are raising political tensions. There is concern that voter anger will unleash violence along the ethnic and regional lines that divide this fragmented society.

Although Karzai was a favorite of the Bush administration, his relations with the Obama administration have been decidedly cooler. The United States did not back any of the dozens of candidates who campaigned for the presidency; Karzai is widely expected to win, though he may have to face a second round in October if he does not obtain at least 50 percent of the vote.

Karzai’s aides responded sharply Sunday night to Abdullah’s charges of fraud, calling them political propaganda and accusing him of trying to bypass the election-review process by taking his complaints to the media. They did not answer any of his specific charges but said they had received similar reports of election violations by Abdullah’s camp.

“We have documented many cases of irregularities by Dr. Abdullah’s team, but we respect the process and we have taken them to the election complaint commission,” said Wahid Omar, chief spokesman for Karzai’s campaign. “To make these allegations in the media for political gain is disrespectful of the process and of the people’s vote. It is an attempt to hijack the process that is not helpful to democracy.”

Abdullah’s charges echoed concerns raised by election monitoring groups here. They have said they received numerous reports of irregularities and bias by polling officials, as well as of pressure on voters by powerful local figures.


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