Kabul: A US monitoring group said on Thursday that "large numbers of polling stations" had more than 100 percent turnout in Afghanistan`s election, the latest black mark against a vote increasingly tainted by reports of fraud.
Though there are no official turnout figures from the August 20 poll, government officials and independent observers have generally said that voters showed up only in low numbers because of Taliban threats ahead of the vote and attacks on election day. Dozens of people were killed amid rocket bombardments, bombings and polling station raids.
International censure of the vote has increased since Tuesday, when election officials released results from 92 percent of polling stations showing that President Hamid Karzai had finally passed the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
A UN-backed commission in charge of investigating fraud has ordered an audit and re-count of any station with turnout at or above 600 votes — which represents 100 percent turnout — along with stations in which one candidate won more than 95 percent. However, the commission has not said how many polling stations will be affected.
The Washington, DC-based National Democratic Institute said its analysis of results found large numbers of stations with more than 600 votes in Nuristan, Paktia, Helmand and Badghis provinces, along with others.
These are areas that were considered some of the least secure on polling day and in which anecdotal accounts of nearly empty polling stations suggested low voter turnout. Few international observers went to these areas because of the security risks.
The monitoring group said it had "deep concern" over the high levels of fraud complaints pouring into the investigation commission. The Electoral Complaints Commission has received more than 2,800 complaints about polling day and the counting process, of which 726 have been deemed serious and specific enough to affect polling station results.
"It will be impossible to determine the will of the Afghan people," unless fraud complaints are thoroughly investigated, it said in a statement.
The group had more than 100 international and Afghan observers in 19 of Afghanistan`s 34 provinces. It did not have observers in many of the provinces where it saw problems in the results, but the figures have been posted on the Web.
Partial results released so far show Karzai with 54 percent, far ahead of top challenger Abdullah Abdullah, who has 28 percent. Election officials have said they expect to release full results on Saturday, but these will not be deemed official until all fraud complaints have been investigated and any re-counts are finished.
Election officials have said they are holding back suspicious results, but they appear to be using a different metric than the investigation commission because voting centre results in which candidates won more than 95 percent of the vote have been posted.
The National Democratic Institute says it is a non-partisan organisation aimed at strengthening democratic institutions, and that it is funded partly by private donations and the US and other governments.