afghan opposition alleges electoral fraud
Opposition Alleges Afghan Election Fraud
1 hour, 17 minutes ago
By DANIEL COONEY, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan (news - web sites)'s
first direct presidential election was thrust into
turmoil hours after it started Saturday when all 15
candidates challenging interim leader Hamid Karzai
alleged fraud over the ink meant to ensure people
voted only once and vowed to boycott the results.
But electoral officials rejected their demand that the
vote be called off, saying an apparent mix-up with ink
used to mark voters' thumbs was not severe enough to
halt the historic vote. They said they would rule on
the legitimacy of the vote later.
"The vote will continue because halting the vote at
this stage is unjustified and would deny these people
their right to vote," said Ray Kennedy, vice chairman
of the joint United Nations (news - web sites)-Afghan
electoral body. "There have been some technical
problems but overall it has been safe and orderly."
Karzai said the fate of the vote was in the hands of
the electoral body, but he added that in his view "the
election was free and fair ... it is very legitimate"
"Who is more important, these 15 candidates, or the
millions of people who turned out today to vote?"
Karzai said. "Both myself and all these 15 candidates
should respect our people � because in the dust and
snow and rain, they waited for hours and hours to
Election officials said workers at some voting
stations mistakenly swapped the permanent ink meant to
mark thumbs with normal ink meant for ballots, but
insisted the problem was caught quickly.
The boycott cast a pall over what had been a joyous
day in Afghanistan, where millions of Afghans braved
threats of Taliban violence to crowd polling stations
for an election aimed at bringing peace and prosperity
to a country nearly ruined by more than two decades of
war. The Taliban was ousted by a U.S.-led coalition in
Voters queued for hours outside polling stations in
bombed-out schools, blue-domed mosques and
bullet-pocked hospitals to cast ballots, while more
than 100,000 soldiers, police, U.S. troops and other
security forces deployed to thwart attacks.
The international community spent nearly $200 million
staging the vote. At least 12 election workers, and
dozens of Afghan security forces, died in the past few
months as the nation geared up for the vote.
Karzai went into the election a heavy favorite, but
needed to win a majority to avoid a runoff against the
second-place finisher. Results were expected to take
some time to tally because of the inaccessibility of
many Afghan towns and villages.
The opposition candidates, meeting at the house of
Uzbek candidate Abdul Satar Sirat, signed a petition
saying they would not recognize the results because
the glitches with ink opened the way for widespread
"Today's election is not a legitimate election. It
should be stopped and we don't recognize the results,"
said Sirat, a former aide to Afghanistan's last king
and a minor candidate given little chance of winning.
U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the ink
problem was not as pervasive as the candidates
"I don't think we can lose sight of the perspective.
There are 23,000 polling stations in the country. We
do not have indications it (the ink mix-up) was to a
great extent," he said.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad arrived at Sirat's
house after Karzai's challengers reiterated their
charges in a second meeting. He made no comment other
than to say he was there "only to help."
Khalilzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in
Afghanistan, has been widely criticized for perceived
favoritism for Karzai, and he is seen by many Afghans
as a puppet-master. After his arrival, several Afghans
gathered outside the house joked that a resolution to
the crisis was near because "the big man has arrived."
The issue of the ink was crucial because officials
said before the vote that many people had received
more than one registration card for the election by
mistake. Vote organizers argued that the indelible ink
would prevent people from voting twice, even if they
had more than one card. About 10.5 million
registration cards were handed out ahead of the
election, a staggering number that U.N. and Afghan
officials say was inflated by widespread double
registration. Human rights groups said some people
obtained four or five voter cards, thinking they would
be able to use them to receive humanitarian aid.
Afghanistan has an estimated population of 25 million.
Massooda Jalal, the only woman in the field and one of
the candidates to sign the petition, said she decided
to protest after getting calls of complaint from her
"The ink that is being used can be rubbed off in a
minute. Voters can vote 10 times!" she said.
Another candidate, ethnic Tajik newspaper editor Hafiz
Mansoor, also complained.
"Very easily they can erase the ink," he said. "This
is a trick that is designed to clear the way for
Earlier in the day, Karzai, accompanied by heavily
armed bodyguards, voted in a room at what was once the
prime minister's residence. He rubbed his thumb to
show reporters the ink did not rub off.
"It is not important who wins, but it is important
that Afghanistan makes its own future," he told
reporters before the call for the boycott surfaced.
"This is a very great day. God is very kind to us."
All roads leading to Kabul and other major cities were
heavily guarded and closed to most traffic. Heightened
security measures appeared to work, despite plenty of
signs Taliban rebels were trying to disrupt the polls.
On Friday, a bomb-sniffing dog discovered a fuel truck
rigged with anti-tank mines and laden with 10,000
gallons of gasoline that three Pakistanis planned to
detonate in the southern city of Kandahar, said Col.
Ishaq Paiman, the Defense Ministry deputy spokesman.
The blast would have killed hundreds and "derailed"
balloting in the south, he said.
The election offered a stark contrast in a nation that
has endured many forms of imposed rule in the past 30
years � among them monarchy, Soviet occupation,
warlord fiefdoms and the repressive Taliban theocracy
ousted by the U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11
"I came here to vote so we can have democracy and
stability and peace in Afghanistan," said Aziz Ullah,
a 19-year-old Kabul shopkeeper. "There used to only be
a transfer of power by force or killing."
Women voted at separate booths from men, in keeping
with the nation's conservative Islamic leaning.
The European Union (news - web sites) and the
Organization for Security and Cooperation (news - web
sites) in Europe sent observer missions, but neither
said it planned to pass judgment on the fairness of
the process, saying it would not be appropriate to try
to hold Afghanistan to international standards. A
small U.S. observer team also was monitoring the vote.
Associated Press writers Stephen Graham in Kandahar,
Burt Herman in Mazar-e-Sharif and Amir Shah and Paul
Haven in Kabul contributed to this report.