Archive for Monday, October 11, 2004

Commission will investigate voting fraud claims in Afghanistan

October 11, 2004

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— Afghan election officials agreed Sunday to create an independent commission to probe opposition charges of fraud in this nation's first-ever presidential poll, while ballot-boxes stuffed with the aspirations of the people of this war-ravaged land started to stack up in counting centers.

International officials met privately in an effort to end a boycott of the ballot by opponents of U.S.-backed interim President Hamid Karzai, a heavy favorite to win.

Tallying of the votes had initially been expected to start Sunday, but with ballot boxes coming in from some remote areas on mules, U.N. officials said the process wouldn't start for three to four days. Final results are not expected until around Oct. 30.

A day after all 15 challengers announced they would boycott the election's outcome, two backed off, saying they wanted a commission to rule on whether the voting was fair and indicating they would accept its decision.

A few hours later, their demand appeared to have been met.

"There is going to be an independent commission made to investigate it," electoral director Farooq Wardak said. "There could be mistakes; we are just human beings. My colleagues might have made a mistake."

There was no immediate reaction from the challengers, but a senior Western official said many of the 15 had decided to support the investigative team, which would consist of about three foreign election experts.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and other officials spent much of Sunday meeting with the candidates.

In Washington, U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice predicted that "this election is going to be judged legitimate."

"I'm just certain of it," she said.

The opposition complaint is focused on allegations that the supposedly indelible ink used to mark voters' thumbs in some polling stations could be rubbed off, allowing some people to vote more than once.

International election observers said the complaint did not justify calling for the vote to be nullified. The U.S. International Republican Institute accused the challengers of trying to make up excuses for why they were likely to lose.

Electoral officials said turnout looked extremely high.

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