1 million votes may be nullified amid reports of widespread fraud in Afghan elections

Kabul, Oct 18 (ANI): In the wake of the preliminary results of the September 18 Afghan parliamentary elections having been postponed, interviews with Afghan and Western officials have indicated that fraud was pervasive in the elections, and nearly 25 percent of the votes are likely to be thrown out.

According to two Western officials who have been following the election closely, 800,000 to one million votes may be nullified due to the fraud, which included ballot-box stuffing, citizens being forced to cast their votes at gunpoint, and corrupt election officials and security forces complicit with corrupt candidates, The New York Times reported.

Though the Afghan Independent Election Commission, which is overseeing the counting, has refused to disclose the number of votes that could be thrown out, it revealed in a statement that it had decided to nullify wholly or partially the votes cast at 430 polling places, and that votes at another 830 sites were being audited, suggesting substantial problems, the report said.

Until now the commission has been praised for endeavoring to run an honest vote-counting process, but the last minute delay, as hundreds of candidates have thronged to the capital, Kabul, clamoring to know the results, has raised questions, it added.

In an e-mailed statement released just two hours before the planned news conference for announcing the results, the commission said it would make the announcement on Wednesday. "The reason for the delay in results is to be more accurate and precise," the announcement added.

According to the report, people close to the commission disclosed that while at least 89 percent of the votes had been counted and sifted for fraud in all provinces, a few votes remained to be counted and commission members wanted to wait until the count was complete.

Afghan and Western observers, however, said that they were worried that the commission was coming under enormous political pressure to change the outcome, especially for a handful of powerful figures.

"You can do a lot of mischief in three days," the paper quoted a Western observer, as saying.

Whether this election turns out to be another embarrassment for Afghanistan because of the rampant fraud, as last year's polls were alleged to be, rests on the shoulders of the Independent Election Commission, which is responsible for holding the election and counting the votes, and the Electoral Complaints Commission, which handles accusations against individual candidates, it said.

Last year, the former commission was accused of bias toward President Karzai and either overlooking or assisting in the widespread fraud. (ANI)

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