KABUL, Afghanistan – Days before the outcome of Afghanistan’s contentious presidential vote was expected to be announced, the head of the United Nations mission acknowledged Sunday that widespread electoral fraud had occurred.
However, the official, Kai Eide, strongly contested allegations by his former deputy that he had engaged in a coverup of vote-rigging by supporters of President Hamid Karzai. He also expressed confidence that a partial recount, carried out by Afghan officials and under review by a U.N.-backed body, would yield an acceptable result.
Eide described the election as “a difficult process, marred by so many problems, not least … by widespread fraud.” But he said oversight procedures laid out in the Afghanistan Constitution were meant to weed out invalid votes.
The tainted election has been an enormous disappointment to Western powers, which had hoped that the Aug. 20 vote would provide a strong mandate to Afghanistan’s central government and help galvanize a troubled war effort. Instead, wrangling over the results has heightened ethnic tensions and disillusioned many Afghans.
At his news conference, Eide offered his most detailed rebuttal yet of accusations put forth by veteran U.S. diplomat Peter W. Galbraith, his former deputy. Galbraith was fired by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month after the dimensions of his dispute with Eide became embarrassingly public.
Acknowledging that he and Galbraith had clashed over so-called ghost polling stations, Eide said many Afghans would have been unable to vote if he had followed his deputy’s call to close a number of stations where the security situation would prevent observers from being present.
The dispute has split the U.N. mission, which confirmed that four staffers who had worked for Galbraith resigned after he was fired. However, Eide’s defense of himself and the electoral process was accompanied by a pointed affirmation of support from Western envoys.
Ambassadors from the United States, Britain, Germany and France attended his news conference in a show of solidarity, together with the senior envoys of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.