Karzai holds lead as count trickles in

fraud allegations mount

Afghan electoral body promises to investigate

October 19, 2004|By Paul Watson | Paul Watson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

KABUL, Afghanistan - Interim President Hamid Karzai held a strong lead in the ballot count yesterday as allegations of fraud continued more than a week after the Afghan election.

With an estimated 21 percent of ballots counted, Karzai had 61 percent of the vote, according to the United Nations-Afghan group that organized the Oct. 9 election.

His main rival, Yunis Qanooni, had almost 19 percent. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek warlord, was running third in a field of 16 presidential candidates with a little more than 8 percent.

After briefing a U.N. official yesterday about a long list of alleged irregularities, Qanooni said, "Unfortunately, our friends working in the government are trying to make these big problems seem very small. But in reality the fraud is preplanned."

The election was largely peaceful despite threats from Taliban militants and their allies to kill voters and attack polling stations. But in the days since the polls closed and a huge security operation ended, violence has mounted again.

Yesterday, an election worker and four other Afghans were killed when a blast struck the truck in which they were riding in Paktika province. U.S.-led forces have been battling insurgents in that southeastern region, which borders Pakistan.

Based on initial reports, U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeda e Silva said, it was not clear whether the election vehicle had been targeted: "The area where this incident happened is known for mines and improvised explosive devices. And we don't know which explosive device hit the vehicle."

The list of 38 complaints that Qanooni presented to the United Nations included claims of multiple voting and ballot stuffing, as well as charges that voter identity cards were handed out in some areas on election day, underage Afghans were allowed to cast ballots, and monitors were beaten and jailed.

Qanooni said his campaign's monitors saw at least seven ballot boxes set aside in the Kabul counting station because of "technical problems," such as broken seals. But when monitors returned later, the boxes had disappeared, he told the United Nations.

On election day, a poll worker in Kabul handed a voter a ballot and told him to check the box beside Karzai's picture, Qanooni reported, adding that the voter replied: "Look up. I am Mr. Said Abdul Hadi Dabir, one of the candidates!"

Sultan Baheen, spokesman for the Joint Electoral Management Body, told reporters that anyone with complaints could fill out a form and have them investigated by the body.

Election officials estimate that at least 8 million ballots were cast, out of more than 10 million registered voters. Several thousand people are believed to have registered more than once.

To prevent multiple voting, election officials were supposed to mark voters' thumbs with indelible ink. But many voters were able to rub off the mark.

Karzai would need more than 50 percent of the votes to avoid a runoff. He also wants a strong mandate so that he can counter the power of warlords and disarm their militias.

He is leading in half the country's 34 provinces, while Qanooni and Dostum are each leading in five provinces that form their Tajik and Uzbek ethnic bases. Mohammed Mohaqiq, an ethnic Hazara leader, is leading in two provinces.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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