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Reuters, October 28, 2010

Afghan watchdog voices concern over poll turnout

For example, he said the IEC had recounted votes in 282 sites without the presence of ECC observers

KABUL - Afghanistan's main independent poll watchdog questioned on Thursday an unexplained increase of a million votes from initial turnout estimates after parliamentary elections last month that were marred by fraud and violence.

Old man voting
Spinghar urged the ECC to deal with the complaints before the announcement of the final results, and raised questions about the transparency of the poll.For example, he said the IEC had recounted votes in 282 sites without the presence of ECC observers. (Photo: Demotix)

Afghan election officials have hailed the poll a success despite throwing out as invalid almost a quarter of the 5.6 million votes it said had been cast on September 18.

International observers were more guarded in their response, praising Afghanistan for being able to hold the poll despite a violent insurgency but also citing "considerable fraud."

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said last week 5.6 million votes had been cast on September 18, and that it had invalidated 1.3 million of them for reasons including voting irregularities, intimidation and fraud.

The IEC had said soon after the vote that just over 4 million votes had been cast, explaining the difference by saying that the earlier figure had been based on "estimates."

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) on Thursday expressed its concern over the discrepancy in turnout figures, as well as recounts in some areas and the number of votes invalidated.

"The IEC initially said some 4.5 million people had taken part in the election," said FEFA executive director Jandad Spinghar.

"We call on the IEC to provide a full explanation on the turnout estimate differences," he told a news conference.

The election for the wolesi jirga, or lower house of parliament, went ahead despite a Taliban threat to disrupt it, but Western nations have been wary of dubbing it a success after the fiasco of last year's fraud-marred presidential ballot.Donors who paid for the $149 million poll are less concerned about individual results for the 249 wolesi jirga seats as they are about the level of fraud committed.

The credibility of the vote will be discussed at a NATO summit in Lisbon next month, as will record casualty figures and rising violence, and will weigh heavily when U.S. President Barack Obama reviews his Afghan war strategy in December.

THOUSANDS OF COMPLAINTS

The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) is sifting through some 4,000 complaints. The IEC had first expected to announce final results on October 30 but the number of complaints to be determined means that could still be weeks away.

The ECC, which tossed out more than a third of President Hamid Karzai's votes last year, said earlier this month more than half of the 4,000 complaints it had received could affect the final outcome.

Many complaints had been expected because more than 2,500 candidates contested the election.

Spinghar urged the ECC to deal with the complaints before the announcement of the final results, and raised questions about the transparency of the poll.

For example, he said the IEC had recounted votes in 282 sites without the presence of ECC observers.

The IEC said last week it had disqualified ballots collected from 2,543 of the 17,744 polling stations that opened.

Despite the level of complaints and disqualified votes, there have been few calls to invalidate the entire election or for another vote to be held.

(Editing by Paul Tait and Miral Fahmy)

Category: Corruption - Views: 5239