By Ernesto Londoño
Sunday, September 19, 2010; 6:25 PM
KABUL - Afghan authorities said Sunday that they recovered the bodies of three election workers kidnapped Saturday during parliamentary balloting marked by violence and reports of widespread fraud.
The election workers were abducted Saturday morning as they were taking ballots to a polling station in the northern province of Balkh, provincial spokesman Munit Ahmar said.
"They were ambushed by the Taliban," he said. "They were all shot with Kalashnikovs."
Afghan election commission chairman Fazal Ahmad Manawi said Sunday that election day had been more violent than initially reported. At least 21 voters were killed and 46 were wounded in attacks around the country, Manawi said. There were 93 attacks on polling centers, he added.
The Taliban and other armed groups denounced the election, calling it a fraud orchestrated by the United States, and threatened to attack polling sites and voters.
As election workers began counting ballots Sunday, complaints of fraud began pouring in. They included reports of voters who managed to wipe off the purple ink from their index fingers so they could vote multiple times, as well as ballot stuffing in remote polling stations where few, if any, election observers were posted.
The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, one of the country's largest election monitors, issued a statement Sunday saying it had "serious concerns about the quality of the election" and noting that its observers and other sources documented "extensive irregularities."
The group said observers reported serious security incidents in 389 polling stations. "Ballot stuffing was reported in most provinces, as were proxy voting and underage voting," the statement said. International election experts said it could take weeks to determine the scope of the fraud.
"As with many election days in tough circumstances, initial appearances are only part of the story," Glenn Cowan, the chief of the observer mission dispatched by Bethesda-based Democracy International, said in an interview Sunday. "We have to wait to see what happens with the vote tabulation."
Senior Western officials have refrained from calling the election a success, following early upbeat assessments of last year's fraud-plagued presidential election.
"The results and quality of the election will not be immediately evident," the U.S. Embassy said in a statement. "The United States will support the Afghan independent electoral institutions as they do their work in coming weeks, including carrying out thorough measures to detect and adjudicate fraud."
Provincial councils will review most complaints, and serious ones will be referred to officials in Kabul. The Electoral Complaints Commission is expected to rule on all complaints by Oct. 24. Final results are expected Oct. 30.
Because of the large number of candidates - roughly 2,500 candidates vied for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament - election experts say there will probably be hundreds of complaints.
"You have 2,200 losers," Cowan said. "Any time you have that many people who feel abused, there's bound to be a huge number of complaints."
Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.