Afghan elections: What might happen next
With President Hamid Karzai's rivals crying foul, the incumbent may win by solid margins but lose legitimacy – which could hamper counterinsurgency efforts.
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On Saturday, presidential candidate Mirwaiz Yasini walked into the retro-chic Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and dumped hundreds of ripped up ballots in the lobby – discarded votes for the opposition, he said. Journalists on a break between optimistic press conferences from international monitoring groups and the election commission rifled through the sheets.
They contained votes for candidates other than Mr. Karzai and bore a stamp from polling station workers. Mr. Yasini said his campaign workers found these scattered around the southern city of Spin Boldak after his observers were barred from polling stations by border police.
Karzai's main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, added to the allegations of fraud Sunday, saying ballots marked for Karzai were coming in from volatile southern districts where no vote was held, and that turnout was being reported as 40 percent in areas where only 10 percent of the people voted.
"This is a sign or evidence of widespread rigging," Abdullah said, adding that he has no faith in the chief of the country's Independent Election Commission, a Karzai appointee.
Official vote tallies – legitimate or not – are not expected until Sept. 7, while some preliminary figures may be released Tuesday. With Karzai's rivals accusing the incumbent of committing fraud to win without a runoff, the vote count leaves open the possibility for four scenarios. All hold pitfalls for Afghanistan's Western backers.
A big Karzai win
If Mr. Karzai manages to win handily, many Afghans will believe the election was stolen.
"I will congratulate Mr. Karzai on his successful coup," says Afghan analyst Waheed Muzdja in Kabul.
This result spells serious trouble for NATO's counterinsurgency effort here. Security experts emphasize that it's extremely difficult to defeat an insurgency when coalition forces are supporting a government with no legitimacy. Support back home for the war may also fade faster.
One solution – declaring the election invalid – appears nearly impossible.
An independent body called the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has been set up to adjudicate fraud complaints. But its mandate is limited to investigate specific incidents – not to determine whether they may add up to a thrown election.
"We're not talking about outcomes in terms of the ranking of the candidates and who's going to be the winner," says Maarten Halff, an ECC commissioner. "It's impossible to tell from each incident how many votes would be involved."
Their findings go to the Independent Election Commission, which has the power to certify the results, but was appointed by the president with no outside oversight.