By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 4, 2010; A11
KABUL - The Afghan attorney general's office has launched a number of criminal investigations into allegations that the country's election commission participated in fraud during parliamentary elections in September, officials said Wednesday.
Deputy Attorney General Rahmatullah Nazari said his staff has begun investigating nine cases in which election officials, all but one of them at the Kabul headquarters of the Independent Election Commission, are accused of rigging votes. Nazari did not say whether the probes are targeting the election commissioners themselves or members of their staff.
Allegations by candidates about fraudulent activity in the elections have been pouring into the attorney general's office, Nazari said, but he added that his office is focusing only on allegations involving criminal behavior, such as bribery.
A member of the Independent Election Commission, Abdullah Ahmadzai, said the attorney general's office does not have the authority to investigate electoral matters, unless they are referred directly by either of Afghanistan's two electoral organizations.
According to Ahmadzai, the election commission received a letter from the attorney general Tuesday seeking to investigate the cases of two candidates - one from Herat province and another from Kapisa province - who had been disqualified by the Electoral Complaints Commission, the watchdog organization that investigates possible voting fraud.
The attorney general's letter should have gone to the Electoral Complaints Commission, not to his organization, Ahmadzai said, adding that he was unaware of allegations of criminality involving election officials. The Independent Election Commission is planning to respond to the attorney general Thursday, he said.
"The attorney general's office can never investigate election matters, and that is very clear," Ahmadzai said. "I don't see any justification of a direct involvement of the attorney general's office."
When it announced the preliminary results of the elections two weeks ago, the Independent Election Commission said it had invalidated 1.3 million votes - about a quarter of the total cast - because of voting irregularities. That was roughly the same share of votes as was invalidated in last year's fraud-marred presidential election.
Since that announcement, however, candidates and others have voiced growing concern about how the election commission decided to invalidate particular votes. Angry candidates and their supporters protested in Kabul this week calling for new elections and accused the commission of manipulating the results.
If more than 90 percent of the votes in one ballot box went to one candidate or a box contained more than the maximum 600 votes, that triggered a review by election officials for possible fraud. But the precise process of how the final decision was made to disqualify votes has been murky, according to officials involved in the elections.
"Nobody knows how they actually get to these decisions," said one Western official in Kabul who works on election issues, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a lack of authorization to speak publicly. "What are they actually doing to make sure the ballot boxes or polling stations they're invalidating actually show clear evidence of fraud?"
The Electoral Complaints Commission does not plan to review the Independent Election Commission's decisions to invalidate votes from the parliamentary elections, officials said.
Special correspondent Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.