KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan electoral officials, releasing preliminary results of last month’s elections, said Wednesday that they had tossed out more than a million ballots, citing proven or likely fraud.
The decision by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission laid bare the enormous extent of malfeasance in the Sept. 18 vote, which was billed as a showpiece of the country’s nascent democracy.
But it also demonstrated the ability of formerly pliant electoral officials to disqualify ballots because of ballot box stuffing, wholesale vote-buying or threats to voters from armed gunmen, among other offenses.
The large number of nullified ballots was an embarrassment to the government of President Hamid Karzai, which had pledged that all efforts would be made to ensure the election would be free and fair. Paradoxically, it also represented a potential advance in the integrity of those responsible for securing the vote.
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission – government-appointed, despite its name – said about one-fourth of the 5.6 million ballots cast would be nullified.
In last summer’s tainted presidential vote, the disqualification procedure fell mainly to a U.N.-appointed oversight body, which also must give its blessing to the final results of this vote.
The IEC, like many Western officials, had painted a somewhat successful scenario in the wake of the balloting, simply because so many Afghans had turned out to vote despite Taliban threats, and because the insurgents staged no successful large-scale attacks on voting day.
Election officials told journalists at a news conference in the capital, Kabul, on Wednesday that 1.3 million of about 5.5 million votes cast had been discarded, even as they released the preliminary results.
“We can state with pride that the turnout exceeded our expectations,” the IEC’s chairman, Fazl Ahmad Manawi, told reporters. “In the current situation in Afghanistan, this amounts to success.”
Because of the clouded nature of the result, it was difficult to say whether the new 249-seat lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga, would be likely to adhere to the wishes of Karzai. The outgoing parliament, in its final months, had challenged many of the president’s decisions and policies.
It may be another month before complaints are adjudicated and a final tally is determined.