Afghans tally vote amid fraud fears

Low turnout reported in parliamentary election marred by violence and allegations of voter irregularities.

    Early indications show low voter turnout amid voter intimidation and allegations of fraud [AFP]

    Election officials in Afghanistan are tallying votes following a crucial parliamentary poll marred by violence and allegations of widespread fraud.

    The vote count on Sunday followed a day of violence as the Taliban launched a wave of attacks aimed at disrupting Saturday's poll.

    The country's interior ministry said Taliban fighters carried out 33 bomb attacks on election day, killing 11 civilians and three police officers.

    Afghan officials said the security situation did have an impact on the polls, prompting many Afghans to stay away from polling stations. So far, electoral officials say only 3.6 million votes were cast in an election in which 11.4 million Afghans were eligible to vote.

    Despite the spate of attacks, Afghan authorities said overall security during the polling day had been better than expected. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the defence ministry spokesman, told a news conference that there had been no serious security incident linked to the election.

    Saturday's vote was the second parliamentary election to be held in Afghanistan since the Taliban was toppled by the US-led invasion in 2001.

    Violent day

    Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Kabul, the Afghan capital, said that it was too early to judge the election. 

    "Turnout here in Kabul looks certain to be lower than in recent elections. But it's too early to judge this poll. Information still hasn't come in from remote areas, and the final results won't be known until the end of October." 

    Voting got off to a slow start, stoking fears that the Taliban's campaign of threats in the run-up to the poll had succeeded in scaring away voters.  

    But many Afghans did brave the rockets and bombs to cast their vote."I want to show that I am not afraid of the Taliban," Mohammad Zaman, who was first in line to vote in a southern suburb of Kabul, said.

    In Kandahar, a housewife called Fawzya admitted being afraid of the Taliban as she waited to cast her ballot. "I am scared. I know there are Taliban threats but I felt I had to come and vote," she said.

    Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, who won an election marred by allegations of massive fraud a year ago, described Saturday's vote as a step towards a brighter future.

    "We hope nobody will be deterred by security incidents, although there will undoubtedly be some," he said, as he cast his ballot. "This will take Afghanistan several steps forward into a brighter future."

    More than 2,500 candidates were contesting 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga. Among them are 406 women contesting 68 seats reserved for them under legislation designed to better their rights.

    The Election Complaints Commission said it had received complaints of delayed opening, intimidation, ineligible voters, misuse of registration cards, proxy voting, poor ink quality and shortages of ballot papers.

    Afghans reported being able to rub the ink off their fingers with little effort, despite officials saying that it was the best quality indelible ink available.

    Fake voting cards

    In Jalalabad, observers said poll workers let people vote with fake registration cards, raising further questions over the integrity of the poll.

    "The women coming here have so many cards that don't have the stamp and are not real cards but still they are voting,'' Nazreen, a monitor for the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, which has dispatched observers throughout the country, said.

    Fake voter cards flooded into Afghanistan ahead of the balloting, but election officials had promised that poll workers were trained to spot them.

    Al Jazeera's Sue Turton, reporting from Kabul, said the Free and Fair Election Foundation was also urging those investigation fraud claims to look into the lack of female staff in polling stations in many areas.

    "Of course, in a country where men and women are publicly separated, that is very important," she said.

    Reports during election day suggested that voter turnout among women was significantly lower than among men.

    Hamid Karzai was among the first to cast his vote [AFP]

    Nato's senior civilian representative said some fraud was expected, and that it would not necessarily undermine the vote.

    "The real issue is the scale of that and does it affect the result. And does it affect the credibility of the election, not in our eyes but in the eyes of the Afghan people," Mark Sedwill said.

    But Abdullah Abdullah, a former presidential rival of Karzai, said that fraud would delegitamise the parliament.

    "If, as a result of massive fraud it does turn out to be a sort of rubber stamped parliament, at the hands of the government, then we will lose the opportunity for checks and balances which is expected from the parliament," he said.

    Peter Galbraith, the former deputy UN envoy to Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera that Taliban threats may not be the only reason behind Afghans staying away from the polls. "I think the real reason voters are turned off is they don't feel, rightly, that their votes are going to be counted, so why would you go risk your life in an election you think is going to be stolen anyhow," he said. 

    But the United States praised the Afghan electorate in a statement released by the US embassy in Kabul.

    "The results and quality of the election will not be immediately evident, and the United States will support the Afghan independent electoral institutions as they do their work in the coming weeks, including carrying out thorough measures to detect and adjudicate fraud," it said.

    Final results from the poll are not due until October 31.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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