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Britney Spears gets to vote? Tales of fraud mar Afghan election.

Reports of widespread irregularities are pouring in as Western officials scramble to lower expectations ahead of Thursday's presidential vote.

By Matthew Clark / August 19, 2009

Afghan people pass by a wall of election campaign posters in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. On the eve of Afghanistan's presidential election, there are reports of irregularities and instances of fraud.

David Guttenfelder/AP

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Could it be? US pop idol Britney Spears will be voting in Afghanistan's national election tomorrow?

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It may be laughable, but a voter registration card was actually issued in her name. Copies of the card were widely emailed and pinned up in a Kabul hotel bar, reports Reuters.

It's being used as the latest outlandish example of how fraud threatens to mar - if not derail – an expensive ($223 million) and important step in the country's stability and development.

Votes for sale

"Voter registration cards are for sale by the handful on the streets of Afghan cities and villages," according to the Reuters report. "One Afghan man in a village not far from Kabul had a sackful of cards buried by a stream at the back of his house, for sale to anyone who asked – but he'd prefer if they were used to vote for President Hamid Karzai."

"Thousands of voting cards have been offered for sale and thousands of dollars have been offered in bribes to buy votes," reports BBC, which did an undercover investigation into the matter. "We were passed information that voting cards were being sold in the capital. An Afghan working for the BBC went undercover, posing as a potential buyer. He was offered 1,000 cards on the spot. Each one would cost about $10."

Plans to steal the election in Taliban strongholds?

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) said that President Karzai's supporters were trying to force it to not to close polling stations in Taliban strongholds where voting cannot be properly monitored, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Arif Noorzai, who runs a government directorate planning to use tribesmen to improve security, said fighters would "fill the places where there are no police."
But one Western diplomat told The Daily Telegraph he feared the plan was an attempt to "steal" the election.
"The opinion polls say Karzai is five per cent short of the 50 per cent he needs to win without a second round. That's probably around 500,000 votes. These 443 stations could mean more than a million votes, enough to swing the election," he said.

Well, no one said it would be perfect.

This is, after all, Afghanistan.

That's the point Western officials are scrambling to make in order to manage expectations.

"If you are talking about free and fair [elections] in terms of an established democracy, then I think that goes beyond the expectations of a country like Afghanistan, in conflict with weak structures and institutions," said Kai Eide, the UN special representative in Afghanistan. "[These are] the most complicated elections I have seen anywhere in the world."

From 'free and fair' to 'good enough'

Gone from the lexicon of electoral observers is the standard phrase "free and fair," reports the BBC.

"Good enough" is the new manta.

But, as the Beeb points out, the real question may turn out to be: "Good enough for whom?"

If certain influential parties - many notorious warlords among them - are not satisfied with the integrity of the vote, there will be concerns of fresh violence.

But no one should pay too much attention to the mechanics of the vote, says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"Afghan perceptions of the results of the vote will be far more important than outside efforts to observe the election and determine whether it will be honest by Western standards," wrote Mr. Cordesman in a recent piece on the legitimacy of the vote. "If Afghans feel the election was legitimate by their standards, it will be a sign of major progress regardless of how outsiders judge the mechanics. If they divide in anger along ethnic or sectarian lines, and if the end result is more divisive than unifying, the election will be a failure. "

And Britney?

Not only is she "voting" in the Afghan election, but apparently she's running for office in the US, too. Last night she appeared on the Dave Letterman show in a bikini to read the Top 10 ways the US would be different if she were president.

No. 6: "I'd lure Osama out of hiding with the irresistible scent of my new fragrance 'Circus Fantasy.' "

Circus, indeed.

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