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Central & South Asia
Afghans plan extra polling centres
Election commission to open 155 more stations despites fears over fraud and security.
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2009 15:27 GMT
The election commission plans to distribute materials to an extra 155 voting centres [EPA]

Afghan election officials plan to open many more polling stations for the presidential runoff on November 7, despite the UN recommending that the number of locations be cut to prevent a repeat of the mass fraud witnessed in the first round.

The Independent Election Commission said on Thursday that it planned to open 6,322 voting centres for the second round, up from 6,167 in the first round.

"Discussions with security agencies and our logistic preparations" assured the commission that it would be possible to open more centres, Zekria Barakzai, an election official, said.

Barakzai said that Afghan and international forces had acknowledged that they could provide security for as many as 6,600 polling stations, and the commission had actually cut that number by almost 300 because of its concerns about fraud.

The UN had recommended cutting the total number of polling stations to make sure there would were enough monitors and security at those that did open.

Ballot box stuffing

The first round of voting on August 20 was so badly affected by ballot box stuffing and distorted tallies that more than one million votes were thrown out, forcing Hamid Karzai, the incumbent president, into a second round against his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister.

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Observers and UN advisers attributed much of the cheating to so-called ghost polling stations that never opened but returned results or to stations that opened in areas without enough oversight to ensure a fair balloting.

Peter Galbraith, the former deputy head of the UN's mission in Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera on Saturday that many of the polling station where cheating had taken place should not be reopened on November 7 to prevent fraud.

"It is now time to close down those ghost polling centres. These are places where a large number of votes were recorded but they never actually opened," Galbraith, who was sacked after speaking out about the fraud, said.

"... in each and every case where there was fraud, election commission staff either committed the fraud, co-operated with those who committed the fraud or failed to report it."

The decision to open the additional polling stations raises further concerns about the election commission, which has been widely criticised for a perceived closeness to Karzai.

Opposition demands

Abdullah has accused the commission of being complicit in the fraud and called for the resignation of Azizullah Lodin, the chairman, to ensure a fair runoff. Both the Karzai campaign and the election commission have said that Lodin will not step down.

Abdullah has called on the head of the election commission to resign over the fraud [AFP]
However, organisers have conceded to another demand from Abdullah's camp, registering 20,000 of his observers to be deployed to voting centres.

"One part of Dr Abdullah's demands was 20,000 new candidate agents from his side should be accredited, we agree to that and we will deliver the accreditation badges to his campaign by Saturday," Barakzai said.

Despite official concerns that the fraud of the first round will be repeated, most voters are more likely to be worried about Taliban attacks.

At least five UN workers and a number of Afghan security personnel were killed as Taliban fighters stormed a guest house in the capital, Kabul, on Wednesday.

"We'll intensify our attacks in the coming days. We'll disrupt the elections," Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said on Thursday.
  
"We have new plans and tactics for attacks to disrupt the elections."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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