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Counting Begins in Afghan Vote Amid Attacks, Fraud Claims

September 20, 2010 at 6:02 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The low, slow vote count was under way in Afghanistan today, as the country selected a new Parliament. Saturday’s election was marked by uneven turnout, Taliban attacks, and widespread claims of fraud.

There may be no better example of how dangerous it can be to hold an election in a war zone than occurred during this interview with an Afghan provincial governor on Saturday.

ABDUL JABAR NAEEMI, governor, Khost Province, Afghanistan (through translator): In Khost Province, the voting is going very well in different districts and in the city.

(EXPLOSION)

GWEN IFILL: That blast in the background hit a polling station nearby, wounding three people. All told, attacks killed more than 20 civilians and nine police on Saturday.

After casting his own vote, President Hamid Karzai urged fellow Afghans to follow his lead, despite the risks.

HAMID KARZAI, president of Afghanistan: They should, by voting to the country’s candidates for Parliament, take the country many steps forward into forward into a better future.

GWEN IFILL: Turnout, at around four million, was significantly lighter than in last year’s presidential vote. And it may have been the lowest of the four elections held since U.S. forces ousted the Taliban in 2001. There were also allegations of rampant fraud.

NADER NADERY, Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan: We have seen ballot stuffing, proxy votes, underage voting, and also multiple voting. The most serious one is the ballot stuffing. Our observers have observed in more than — in around 280 centers where — in 28 provinces where the ballot stuffing did occur.

GWEN IFILL: Afghanistan’s leading election observation group called today for an independent investigation. Also today, President Karzai’s spokesman agreed that the fraud allegations warranted a second look.

WAHEED OMAR, Afghan presidential spokesman: (through translator): Like any other election anywhere in the world, there are complaints there have been irregularities. But we are waiting for the respective organizations to investigate these complaints. And they should be the source of information to the Afghan people about the existence of irregularities or frauds.

GWEN IFILL: At the same time, the Afghan Electoral Commission criticized observer groups for being too quick to imply the election was tainted. Still, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said widespread fraud would undermine the legitimacy of the new Parliament.

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, former Afghan presidential candidate: If, as a result of massive fraud, it turned out to be a sort of rubber-stamp Parliament in the hands of the government, then we will lose that opportunity for checks and balances which is expected from the Parliament.

GWEN IFILL: Abdullah was the principal victim of fraud in the 2009 presidential election. He lost to President Karzai. More than a million fraudulent votes were cast. And Karzai was only declared the winner once Abdullah withdrew from a runoff.

U.S. officials condemned the fraud in the 2009 election. After the latest vote, they are waiting for results while commending Afghans for their perseverance.

MARK TONER, State Department spokesman: We believe the Afghan people can be proud that millions of their citizens, courageous men and women, went to the polls, exercised their democratic right to vote, despite repeated threats and intimidation by the Taliban.

GWEN IFILL: The results of Saturday’s balloting will not be known for weeks. In all, more than 2,500 candidates vie for 249 seats in the Afghan Parliament.