Credibility at stake after Karzai’s rivals boycott polls
* 14 candidates allege fraud over indelible ink
* 40 including 24 Taliban killed
KABUL: Afghanistan’s historic presidential election closed on Saturday amid violence but the vote was thrown into turmoil instead by a boycott called by most of the candidates.
All 15 of President Hamid Karzai’s rivals said they were withdrawing from the election because systems to prevent illegal multiple voting had gone awry. The move effectively left Karzai as the only candidate in the fray. Election officials nevertheless refused to halt the process, which appeared to have gone smoothly across the country. “Halting the vote at this time is unjustified and would deny these individuals the right to vote,” said election official Ray Kennedy.
Polls opened at 7am and closed at 4pm although those in the queue were allowed to vote later. The focus had been on turnout and whether Karzai, the US-backed favourite, would be able to get the 51 percent win he needed to avoid a November runoff.
Fears of sabotage by Taliban militants who had vowed to disrupt the polls were overtaken halfway through the voting day when it became clear some workers were using the wrong pen to mark people’s fingers after they voted.
This meant the ink could just be washed off and the voter could potentially cast a ballot again. The decision by Karzai’s rivals to boycott the poll was made at an emergency meeting. Eighteen candidates are on the ballot but two withdrew this week in favour of Karzai.
Later all but one of the 15 demanded fresh polls and said they would not recognise any government elected on Saturday.
“We want the elections to be re-held as soon as possible in a fair, transparent manner and without interference,” said Abdul Satar Serat, one of the candidates.
“Any government that comes to power as a result of today’s election has no credibility, no validity and is illegitimate for us.”
The Joint Election Management Body (JEMB) said it would investigate the complaints but could not justify halting the vote.
Ahead of the poll, security had been the overriding worry for election organisers fearing attacks by Taliban militants, who vowed to disrupt what they called a US-orchestrated sham. Up to 40 people were killed in violence in Afghanistan on polling day.
The single largest clash reported was in Uruzgan province, where governor Jan Mohammad Khan said that 24 suspected Taliban guerrillas were killed, as well as one civilian, in an air strike by US-led forces.
An Afghan militia patrol also hit a mine in the Panjwai district on Saturday afternoon, killing two people, and two civilians died when the tractor taking them home from the voting site hit another mine. Separately, three Afghan soldiers were killed and four wounded in an attack by gunmen as they carried ballot boxes to Tirin Kot in the central province of Uruzgan.
In other incidents around the country, two rockets were fired at a polling station in the province of Paktiya and a bomb exploded at a polling station in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif early Saturday. agencies