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Anticipation Grows Around Afghan Fraud Probe

October 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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A probe into fraud allegations in Afghanistan's presidential election carries important implications for the Obama administration's deliberations into war strategy there. Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post assesses the possible consequences with Judy Woodruff.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And for more on where things stand, we have one of the writers of that Washington Post story. Karen DeYoung is the senior diplomatic correspondent. She joins us now from the paper’s newsroom.

Karen, thank you for talking with us.

KAREN DEYOUNG, The Washington Post: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You cite sources with knowledge for what the commission is doing, this Electoral Complaints Commission, as finding the results stunning. What exactly did they find?

KAREN DEYOUNG: What they found was that, from their sampling — and they didn’t look at all the disputed votes — they took a — what they considered a representative sample — that President Karzai, who the national electoral commission had found, preliminarily, received 54 percent of the vote, actually had received only about 47 percent, somewhere in the high 40s.

And that would trigger, as you said in your piece, a runoff between him and his — and his second — the second in the race, Abdullah Abdullah.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, as you say, this was just a sampling of ballots, so how certain can they be of these results, of this conclusion?

KAREN DEYOUNG: Well, President Karzai and the other actors in Afghanistan all agreed to this Complaints Commission. They agreed to the way in which they were going to sample the votes.

They did about 3,300 polling stations, only those in which it was reported that 100 percent of eligible voters voted or 95 percent of all of those who voted, voted for one candidate. And they took those, and they extrapolated on a larger pallet. And most of the complaints and most of what they found to be fraudulent votes that they threw out had gone to President Karzai.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Karen, why haven’t they announced this yet?

KAREN DEYOUNG: Well, they are not scheduled to announce it until tomorrow. They were supposed to finalize their results today, communicate them to the government. And they are supposed to officially declare them tomorrow.

Now, President Karzai’s spokesman has already come out today and charged that the Complaints Commission was politically manipulated, and, therefore, he will consider any result that they announce a political result, and he will answer in kind. He has never said that he would accept or reject the results of the Complaints Commission.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what’s the expectation? Is it expected that he’s going to go along with the second round, with a runoff?

KAREN DEYOUNG: I don’t think anybody knows right now.

There is a lot of discussion going on between the Afghan electoral commission and the complaints panel that’s going to issue its report tomorrow. The electoral commission, supposedly, is questioning the way the Complaints Commission did their work, and saying that its conclusions are not legitimate.

You know, one could say that this will all end very badly. One could also say — and I think this is what the Obama administration is hoping — that this is democracy at work, this is political haggling, and that they hopefully will come out with a solution that will allow the process in Afghanistan to move forward.

Runoff preparations

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, I did see one story that quotes the Afghan ambassador to the United States, who is a core part -- part of the Karzai government, as saying they do expect a runoff.

KAREN DEYOUNG: He did say that. He said that on Thursday in a speech. And that was viewed, again, by the Obama people, as something relatively optimistic, because of his closeness to Karzai, and led them to believe that Karzai, whatever political maneuvering may be going on right now, would, in the end, accept the runoff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karen, what about the timing of this? How quickly could they get this done? I also saw it reported that ballots have already been printed up for a runoff.

KAREN DEYOUNG: Right.

They have been anticipating this for some time. The United Nations has been running the elections, along with the Afghan government. Ballots were printed with Karzai's name and Abdullah's name on them in London a couple of weeks ago. They have been shipped to Kabul.

The ink for the indelible ink on the fingers has been assembled. The polling packages are being put together. The Afghan constitution requires that any runoff held within two weeks of the certified results.

The Americans and their NATO allies had agreed some time ago that it would have to be before the first week in November was over, or it would be too far into the winter.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, again, all this critically important to the Obama administration, as the president is engaged in this strategic review, making a decision about whether to send and how many more troops to send.

KAREN DEYOUNG: Well, I think that it could go either way for the Obama administration. I think they are pretty much in agreement that the current circumstance, with Karzai at least preliminarily claiming victory that has been disputed, is not a good sign, that this would result in a government that is not considered legitimate, certainly by many Afghans, and also by many of the participants in Afghanistan.

There are lots of risks to having a runoff. There could be more fraud alleged. It could -- the counting could drag on. Any number of bad things could happen. But I think, on balance, at this point, the administration considers that the best possible option.

They do expect that Karzai would win, and that he would then take over in a much more legitimate position as a partner for their policy in Afghanistan than he is now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we heard Secretary of State Clinton say that a moment ago, that they think the likelihood of Karzai winning in a second round is...

KAREN DEYOUNG: Right. I think that that is -- that that is pretty sure.

Abdullah was given 28 percent in the preliminary results that the electoral commission announced last month.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post, thanks very much.

KAREN DEYOUNG: You're welcome.