Problems in one province delay Afghan election; re-vote possible, officials say

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 2:23 PM

KABUL - Afghanistan's election commission prolonged the uncertainty of the country's recent parliamentary vote Wednesday when it omitted one province from its announcement of final results, opening the possibility of a costly and complicated re-vote there.

The Independent Election Commission announced final tallies for 33 of Afghanistan's provinces but said technical problems had prevented it from certifying the results in the eastern province of Ghazni. In that province, Taliban violence is believed to have suppressed the vote among the majority-Pashtun population, clearing the way for the election of 11 candidates from the Hazara minority.

Officials with President Hamid Karzai's government had warned that certifying such an outcome could lead to further ethnic strife and embolden the Taliban.

By declining to announce Ghazni's results, the election commission opened itself to the accusation that it had done so under pressure from Karzai's office. Western and Afghan officials said they were not surprised by the commission's decision, which had been widely expected.

Some Karzai aides, as well as election observers, said that a new vote would be held in Ghazni and would have to be funded by the international community. But a member of the election commission, Abdullah Ahmadzai, said the commission still had not decided whether to announce the Ghazni results later or to schedule a new election there.

"So between these two options, we will make one decision, either to certify the result and announce it in one week's time, or a rerun," Ahmadzai told the Associated Press.

The prospect of a new vote raises several potential problems. Two months of protests and allegations of fraud have already passed since the Sept. 18 vote, tarnishing the reputation of election officials and casting doubt on the legitimacy of the new parliament. The Afghan attorney general has threatened to charge two election officials with defaming the nation and has called for a wide-ranging investigation of alleged vote rigging and fraud. Further delay would add to this political turmoil.

In addition, a new vote would offer no guarantees of a different result. The Taliban insurgency remains strong in Ghazni, particularly in Pashtun areas. It would be difficult to send independent election observers there or to secure the voting sites sufficiently to prevent a repeat of Pashtun disenfranchisement.

Other provinces that had problems with fraud and violence could also press for new contests in their jurisdictions if Ghazni has a second balloting.

"There will be some type of process that will take place in Ghazni, likely after winter," said one Western official who works on election issues. "This obviously brings up a whole host of challenges."

Since the ethnically lopsided result in Ghazni became known, Western diplomats have voiced growing concern about the province, citing both the possibility of palace interference and the fear of ethnic strife, and have tried to help broker a political solution.

While acknowledging that changing the vote results wouldn't work, diplomats have suggested that Karzai could appoint Pashtuns from the province to the parliament's upper house, offer them staff positions with the provincial government or persuade some Hazaras to step down for the sake of national unity.

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