Afghan election fraud allegations mount as Karzai lead widens
Though many Afghan citizens and politicians are alleging fraud, analysts say getting to the bottom of what happened is a difficult exercise.
If a ballot box was stuffed but nobody saw it, did it happen?Skip to next paragraph
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That's a crucial question as claims of fraud surrounding Afghanistan's presidential election last week continue to pour in. On Wednesday, the Afghan electoral commission said Hamid Karzai's lead had widened to 44.8 percent of ballots counted against 35.1 percent for his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, with the ballots from 17 percent of the country's polling stations counted.
Afghan investigators say they're scrutinizing all complaints, but since electoral observers weren't present at many polling places, much fraud could have taken place out of view. Aside from a negligible contingent of international monitors, independent Afghan monitors only covered 60 percent of the polling centers.
That's going to make it very difficult to determine whether cheating undermined the choice of Afghan voters. And while analysts say they can work around missing data using statistical tools and common sense, subjective assessments could be easily politicized by Afghans and others unhappy with their conclusions.
"The main reason why you haven't seen a strong international reaction yet is that it is unclear what kind of results are going to be presented," says Martine van Bijlert, codirector of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. "We don't know yet whether we are going to be asked to believe the implausible."
Ms. van Bijlert says that early reports from around the country of intimidation of voters and electoral observers and ballot box stuffing make her have doubts about the election's fairness, though she hastens to add that neither she nor anyone else has the full picture yet. [Editor's note: The original version misspelled Ms. van Bijlert's name.]
"The standard line in this kind of cases is that there were irregularities, but that they didn't affect the outcome of the elections. Reports from the provinces suggest otherwise. They suggest that these irregularities were actually designed to affect the outcome of the elections and that they probably did," says van Bijlert.
In the coming days, van Bijlert says she'll be scrutinizing returns for hard-to-believe results – high female turnout in conservative and insecure areas, say, or generally high turnout figures in the country's south – before she makes up her mind about the legitimacy of the election.
At the moment it's still too early to judge, she says. "Basically we're all waiting for figures that can be analyzed, before we can really say which way this is going to turn."
Number crunching, yes. But number sharing?
Some of this number crunching is reportedly taking place already within the Independent Election Commission (IEC), the Afghan body charged with running the election.
The head of the IEC information technology division, Ajmal Amin Rabmal, told the Associated Press that his organization will catch 90 percent of the fraud with the help of computer algorithms. Later, however, an IEC spokesperson said Mr. Rabmal is no longer allowed to talk to the media – raising concerns that such data may not be made available to outside analysts.