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Controversy Grows Over UN Mission's Role In Afghan Election

October 07, 2009

By Abubakar Siddique

With the final results of Afghanistan's presidential election set to be announced, a small group of protesters gathered in front of the UN offices in Kabul to protest the world body's role in a process tainted by controversy.

The final results are expected to be announced soon following the completion of an investigation by a UN-backed vetting body, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).

Early results of the August 20 ballot indicate it was won by incumbent President Hamid Karzai, albeit amid claims of widespread fraud.

Among the protesters who assembled in the Afghan capital were backers of Karzai's main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. Some sharply criticized Kai Eide, the UN's special representative to Afghanistan, accusing him of backing Karzai and of "meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan."

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which Eide heads, has increasingly become mired in controversy as infighting among its top diplomats has been made public.

On Eide's advice last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon dismissed his deputy, Peter Galbraith, the top American diplomat in the UN Afghan mission.

Galbraith has accused Eide of concealing election fraud in an effort to favor Karzai's reelection bid. Eide has strongly rejected the accusations.

Suspicious Number Of Votes

Adding to the controversy, "The Washington Post" reported on October 7 that leaked UN data indicates that the official vote count in some provinces exceeded the number of voters in those individual provinces by 100,000 or more.

Such discrepancies are particularly alarming in provinces won by Karzai. For example, in the volatile southern Helmand Province, 134,804 votes were recorded. But the UN estimated that just 38,000 or even fewer than 5,000 people, voted on August 20, according to the newspaper, whose report was based on a UN spreadsheet it obtained.

Dan McNorton, the UNAMA spokesman in Kabul, downplayed the significance of data described in the newspaper's story, saying it was "unsubstantiated raw data and should be treated as such."

He said UNAMA is working on a "speedy resolution to the elections," while calling allegations that Eide had supported Karzai "ludicrous."

"It is important not to be distracted by this and we are all focusing on the work, ensuring that the United Nations can support the Afghan electoral authorities in the process in which they are currently going through, which is auditing and ensuring that the votes cast on August 20 were cast legitimately," McNorton said.

"That process will come to an end over the next few days."

Auditors Under Fire

However, now even the vote-auditing process is under the spotlight. Media reports suggest that the ECC, which oversees the fraud investigation into the presidential vote, altered its ballot-counting rules on October 7 by ditching a plan criticized for favoring President Karzai.

Calling the news rules "clarification," ECC officials have said that they will take into account the possibility that one candidate may have disproportionately benefitted from fraud. Such findings, observers suggest, might help in forcing Karzai to take part in a second round of voting.

The election watchdog has ordered a recount of those ballot boxes deemed suspicious or determined to have exhibited "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" -- 12 percent in all.

But to speed up the process, officials are now sampling just 10 percent of those boxes singled out originally for a recount.

Complete preliminary results gave Karzai 54.6 percent of the vote. If the fraud investigation reduces his share below 50 percent, Karzai would face a runoff against Abdullah.


Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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