Kabul: Ballots from about 10 percent of voting centres in last month`s parliamentary election have been disqualified by fraud, Afghan election officials said today, in a move likely to affect results in a number of volatile provinces.
The September 18 poll is being watched for signs that the government of President Hamid Karzai is committed to reform after a fraud-marred presidential election last year prompted many of Karzai`s Western allies to threaten to pull troops and aid.
However, the pursuit of a clean result also risks inflaming ethnic tensions in tumultuous provinces if ballots are voided that leave certain tribes feeling that their votes didn`t count.
Ballots from 571 centres have been nullified and votes from another 1,177 centres are being audited and recounted, said Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for the election commission. A total of 5,510 centres were reported open on polling day.
It was not clear how many ballots were affected by the commission`s decision. Voting centres ranged in size, with between 1,200 to 7,200 ballots available. About 4.3 million ballots were cast countrywide.
More than 50 centres were excluded in each of three provinces, Paktika in the east, Kandahar in the south and Herat in west, Noor said. Paktika had the most number of centres disqualified, he said.
Noor did not give an exact figure, but said it was fewer than 100 centres.
Paktika, which borders turbulent areas of northwest Pakistan, was difficult for observers to access because of the danger of travelling to much of the province. It was unclear how many people actually voted in the province, which was also the subject of Taliban threats on election day.
The majority of the rest of the exclusions fell into 13 provinces: Wardak, Paktya, Nuristan, Nangarhar, Kunduz, Khost, Ghor, Ghazni, Faryab, Farah, Baghlan, Badakhshan and Badghis, he said. Afghanistan has 34 provinces in all.
Centers were disqualified because of results that showed the hallmark of fraud, such as recording more ballots cast than were sent to polling stations, or showing 95 percent of ballots cast for one candidate, Noor said.
"These were issues which were not allowed through our regulations and our policies," he explained.
It`s a departure for the commission from last year`s presidential poll, when Afghan election officials abandoned exactly these safeguards to let millions of suspicious ballots enter the tally.
About a third of the ballots were later thrown out after a UN-backed fraud watchdog ordered an investigation into the suspicious results.