October 2, 2005

Afghan poll body vows strong action against fraud

By David Brunnstrom

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's election commission vowed
strong action against vote fraud on Sunday after international
observers highlighted "worrying" cases of cheating in last
month's landmark legislative elections.

The U.N.-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) says
ballot boxes from about four percent of 26,000 polling stations
are being checked for irregularities ranging from ballot
stuffing and proxy voting.

But JEMB chairman Peter Erben said the cases of fraud were
localised rather than on a orchestrated, countrywide, scale and
would not affect the overall integrity of the September 18

"If compared with other, similar, post-conflict elections I
think that the level of irregularities that we are currently
reviewing is extremely reasonable," he told a news conference.

"And I do not believe that these irregularities give any
reason to doubt the integrity of the elected institutions."

Nevertheless, Erben said, fraud needed to be dealt with.

"We must react against it and I believe you will see some
strong decisions in coming days," adding that suspect ballot
boxes could be excluded in whole, or in part, and candidates
linked to fraud could be warned, fined or disqualified.

The European Union said last week it had seen "worrying"
cases of fraud in the vote for a national assembly and
provincial councils, Afghanistan's first in more than 30 years.

It said while this did not appear to have occurred on a
nationwide scale, cases needed to be handled in a transparent
and effective manner to ensure the integrity o the election.

A member of the EU mission said organizers should not feel
obliged to rush the count if this meant questionable ballots
were not dealt with properly.


The JEMB had aimed to complete the count by Tuesday, but
Erben said the review of questionable ballots was not subject
to any deadline.

One of the most problematic provinces has been Paktika in
the southeast, where observers said polling failed to meet even
minimum acceptable standards.

Erben said ballot boxes from no less than 274 polling
stations in the province were under review as well as boxes
from more than 90 stations in Paghman district of Kabul.

Paghman is the home district of Abdul Rabb Rasoul Sayyaf, a
powerful factional leader and ally of President Hamid Karzai
who had been in fourth place for one of the 24 seats open to
men in Kabul, with about 20 percent of the vote counted.

Observers speaking privately said it was crucial decisions
on ballots under review were handed properly as a handful of
votes could decide between a seat or defeat in many provinces.

They said they had seen evidence of clearly suspect ballot
boxes being allowed into the counting system to help speed up
the vote count and this risked the credibility of the $159
million electoral process and its international backers.

"If you end up tolerating ballot stuffing, you simply
reward the very people who should not have been on the ballot
in the first place," said one, who did not want to be

Turnout was significantly lower than last years'
presidential vote, with analysts blaming the presence of
notorious warlords on the ballot and disappointment at slow
post-war reconstruction.

Erben said the JEMB would not hesitate to exclude ballot
boxes if it found clear evidence of fraud. "The people of
Afghanistan expect nothing less of us and we remain determined
to take strong action to ensure the integrity of the process."