EU confirms wide fraud in Afghan presidential runoff election

A new report by European Union election observers supports some of the most stark estimates of systematic electoral fraud during June’s Afghan presidential runoff election, and says an earlier audit of the voting invalidated only a small fraction of suspect votes.

The report provides the fullest picture yet of the allegations of fraud that plagued the election, suggesting that more than two million votes — or about a quarter of total votes cast — came from polling stations with voting irregularities.

Reports of widespread fraud led to a political crisis pitting the two campaigns, of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, against each other after the preliminary results tiled sharply in Ghani’s favor.

The standoff led US Secretary of State John Kerry to help broker a power-sharing deal in which Ghani was named president and Abdullah was named the government’s chief executive. That nominal agreement has held, but the two camps have struggled on the precise division of powers, and so far have not been able to come to an agreement on a cabinet, nearly three months after the inauguration.

Wary of upsetting this tenuous balance, the European Union’s chief observer for the Afghan election, Thijs Berman, sought to strike a conciliatory tone at a news conference in which he discussed the new election report.

Berman praised both Ghani and Abdullah for their “statemanlike restraint,” calling the power-sharing agreement “the best way to respect the will of Afghan voters” under the circumstances. But of the election, Berman noted that “one can sadly be sure that a lot went wrong in many places.”

The report from Berman’s election assessment team does not provide a figure for how many votes it believes to be invalid, but it does point to a number of irregular voting patterns that raise doubts about more than two million votes. It notes that millions of votes came from stations with unexpectedly high turnouts of where the votes were cast almost uniformly in favor of one candidate — both of which are “extremely unlikely and an indication of possible fraud,” said Berman.

In the runoff, 2.06 million votes (26 percent of the total) came from polling stations in which turnout was reported to have reached or exceeded 99 percent of the predicted turnout of 600 voters per polling station.

While Afghanistan has not conducted a census in more than 30 years and has only a sketchy sense of its population figures, those statistics were cause for concern, according to Berman. Furthermore, the unexpectedly high turnout reports often happened in provinces far from the country’s main population centers where anecdotal accounts by residents suggested that the actual turnout was extremely sparse, given Taliban threats.

More than 2.3 million votes during the runoff came from polling sites in which more than 95 percent of the votes went to one candidate. Of those, 378,281 votes, or 5 percent of the total, came from polling stations that reported that reported that 100 percent of the votes went one way.

Berman in an interview:

“You never see that. That is a North Korea situation.”

However, even in centers where fraud was likely, many votes were likely legitimate.

“When you throw them in the dustbin there is the question of how far you disenfranchise legitimate votes.”

Source: New York Times

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