Afghan commission orders first ballots invalidated
Kabul: Afghanistan`s vote monitoring body on Thursday ordered for the first time the invalidation of ballots from last month`s controversial elections, finding "clear and convincing evidence of fraud."
Afghans went to the polls in their second direct presidential election on August 20, but the vote has been marred by low turnout and widespread allegations of vote-rigging, intimidation and other fraud.
"In the course of its investigations, the ECC (Electoral Complaints Commission) has found clear and convincing evidence of fraud" in 32 polling stations in two southeastern provinces, the ECC said in a statement.
The ECC said the ballots from those stations will now be excluded from the final vote, which with almost all ballots counted looks set to bring incumbent President Hamid Karzai a second term.
All presidential ballots in five polling stations in Paktika were invalidated, the EEC said, citing indications from the stations "that the ballots were not legally cast, or were not legally counted."
In 27 polling stations in Ghazni, either all the presidential ballots, all the provincial council ballots -- or in some cases both -- were thrown out.
There are 600-700 presidential ballot papers and the same number of ballots for provincial elections at each of Afghanistan`s 25,450 polling stations, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has said.
Investigations in Ghazni found indications of fraud including unfolded ballots, miscounted ballots, missing material, and lists of voters with numerous fictitious card numbers, the ECC statement said.
Grant Kippen, chairman of the ECC, said to a news agency there would be no repeat voting, with the ballots simply being discounted from the final tally.
He said investigations were going on in the rest of Afghanistan`s 34 provinces, but was unable to give a timescale for the release of all findings.
The IEC has announced initial results piecemeal, with Karzai looking set to win a second term with more than 54 percent of the vote, with most ballots counted.
But his main rival Abdullah Abdullah -- trailing with less than 30 percent of the vote -- has urged the IEC not to release results while the fraud claims remain unresolved.
IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said to a news agency that they hope to release the full preliminary result on Saturday. The final confirmation of Afghanistan`s new president is not expected before September 17.
A US election monitoring group on Thursday expressed "deep concern" about fraud in the election after detecting unusually high turnout in some Taliban-plagued regions.
Polling stations in parts of the country where low turnout had been expected because of threats from insurgents saw "unusually high turnout figures," the National Democratic Institute (NDI) said.
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