Abdullah slams Afghan election officials for ‘fraud’

KABUL: Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Sunday accused senior election officials of serious fraud, opening a dispute over the vote count that could threaten a smooth transition of power.
The United Nations had called on candidates to give officials time to conduct the count and investigate fraud allegations, but Abdullah launched a verbal assault on the Independent Election Commission (IEC) one day after the vote.
He said that the turnout figure of 7 million voters announced by the IEC commissioner Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani was probably false.
And he demanded the sacking of Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, chief of the IEC secretariat, over an alleged attempt by Amarkhail to remove unused ballots from the IEC’s headquarters in Kabul on polling day.
A successful election is seen as the key test of the success of the 13-year international military and aid effort in Afghanistan, but Abdullah’s salvo against the IEC could lead to months of political instability.
“There is no collaborating evidence (of the turnout figure) at all throughout the country — that is something that is questionable and what we are concerned about is once again engineered fraud,” Abdullah told reporters.
“The head of the secretariat was... caught red-handed and we want an investigation. We want him to be removed from his position.”
Abdullah feels massive fraud denied him victory in the 2009 election, and he has often said that only a repeat of ballot rigging could deny him power this election.
“Allegations of fraud need to be addressed,” US ambassador James Cunningham said on Saturday after polls closed.
“But the candidates and their supporters should refrain from premature judgements and from criticism that is not supported with clear evidence.”
Before the vote, the UN had also issued a plea for candidates to allow election officials to investigate fraud before making unproven allegations.
Saturday’s run-off pitted former foreign minister Abdullah against ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani after the two came top of the first-round election on April 5. The preliminary result is due on July 2, before the official complaints period begins, and the final result is scheduled for July 22. The Electoral Complaints Commission registered about 275 complaints by Sunday morning.
“There were violation cases where the supporters of the presidential candidates forced voters to vote for a certain candidate,” said spokesman Mohammad Nader Mohsini.
“Supporters were also offering money for voters to vote for a certain candidate.”
Complaints had also been lodged about interference by election officials and the security forces.
“It is win or lose now,” said Kate Clark, director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
“The voting is only one phase of the election, and there is still a lot that could change. Being a good loser doesn’t gain you much here.”
More than 50 people were killed in separate Taliban strikes on Saturday. The deaths included five election workers killed when their bus was hit by a roadside bomb in Samangan province, and five members of one family who died when a Taliban rocket hit a house near a polling station.
Eleven voters in the western province of Herat had their fingers – which were dipped in ink to register their ballot – cut off by insurgents. More than 70 militants were also killed in fighting during the day, according to the interior ministry. 

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