Afghan commission finds tens of thousands of uncounted ballots from September parliamentary vote

Early returns suggest that about 40 percent of the country's voters went to the polls Saturday in the nation's second parliamentary election.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 2010; 6:16 AM

KABUL - The Afghan Independent Election Commission has discovered tens of thousands of previously unaccounted for ballots cast during the September parliamentary elections, a commission official said Sunday.

The official, Abdullah Ahmadzai, said the commission plans to announce this week that the additional votes will be added to the preliminary results that were released publicly last month. However, he said there likely will not be significant changes among the winners of the 249 seats of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghan parliament.

"We checked our warehouses and found those," Ahmadzai said of the missing votes, which were spread through 511 polling centers in 20 provinces. "There will not be any significant changes in the results. However, there may be changes in one or two provinces."

Ahmadzai said more changes to the results could come after the commission completes an audit of an additional 76 voting centers at which major irregularities have been alleged. He did not indicate whether the audit found rampant abuse by polling officials or candidates.

The disclosures came on a day in which more than 200 Afghans marched through the streets of Kabul, carrying signs and chanting slogans denouncing the election results and calling on the commission to stage a public recount. The protest -- the second in the capital and third across the country this week -- came amid increasing allegations of ballot box stuffing, falsified voter cards and illegal bribes of election officials.

The commission has invalidated 1.3 million of the more than 5 million votes it said were cast on Sept. 18. And the Afghan attorney general's office last week announced a criminal investigation into at least nine cases in which election officials, all but one of them at the election commission's Kabul headquarters, are accused of rigging votes.

The controversy has dashed hopes from Afghan officials and international monitors that this year's parliamentary campaign would go more smoothly than last year's presidential election, during which President Hamid Karzai was returned to office despite widespread allegations of fraud.

Sunday's protest was led by several dozen parliamentary candidates who were not among the list of winners when the preliminary results were announced last month.

"We don't want warlords in this government anymore. We don't want a corrupt administration like before. We want Karzai to respect democracy," said Austad Khpalwak Lakenkhil, a candidate who lost his bid for election from the ethnic Kuchi tribe, which is guaranteed 10 reserved seats in parliament. "We want a recount in front of all the candidates and the international community. And for those who tried to destroy democracy, we want them to be punished and sent to jail."

Protestors argued that not enough ethnic Pashtuns, from southern Afghanistan, were elected, which they said was because more than 1,000 polling stations, mostly in the south and east, were closed out of security concerns. Others contended that incumbents who were critical of Karzai also seemed to be disproportionately kept from re-election.

Ahmadzai said the decision to close polling stations were "consistent with the legal framework. They are final decisions and will never change."

Special correspondent Enayat Najafizada contributed to this report.

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