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Afghan election shows signs of progress: Reports
Kabul, Sept 19 (Agencies):
Published on 19 Sep. 2009 11:36 PM IST
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Significant" allegations of fraud in the recent Afghanistan election are a sign of progress toward democracy, says a top Conservative cabinet minister. International Trade Minister Stockwell Day gave the relatively positive assessment in an interview on Friday. In contrast, European Union observers have labelled as "suspicious" as many as one-third of the votes cast for incumbent President Hamid Karzai, while U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that uncertainty about the outcome has "complicated" the mission. "We're always concerned when we hear reports of fraud in an electoral process. . . . It's happening in a significant way in Afghanistan," said Day, who tabled the government's latest progress report on the mission this past week. Day lauded the fact that almost six million Afghan voters braved threats of violence by the Taliban to actually cast ballots. New evidence of widespread fraud in Afghanistan election uncovered Exclusive footage obtained by the Guardian of ballot papers pre-marked for Hamid Karzai that were seized by monitors. The ballots appear to be stamped with the monitors' seal and ready to cast. The monitors filmed then destroyed the papers to stop them being used. The shaky footage shows two election monitors inspecting a book of 100 ballot papers that are still stitched together, as they were intended to arrive at the polling station in rural Afghanistan. But something is wrong; instead of being pristine, ready for the voter to make his or her mark, each paper bears a large blue tick next to the name of one candidate: Hamid Karzai. As the monitors flick through the pad, the back of the ballots clearly show the authorisation stamp of election monitors, validating them as votes ready to be put in the ballot box and counted. "We found it the day after the elections," one of the monitors in the footage told me. "They were trying to put it in one of the [ballot] boxes but didn't have time, so we took it home and filmed it. If we had given it back to the election committee they would have used it again, so we burned it, but filmed it to protect ourselves if they come and threaten us." The video footage is just part of a picture of widespread fraud in the Afghan election uncovered by the Guardian. On Thursday, President Karzai told a news conference: "I believe firmly, firmly in the integrity of the election and the integrity of the Afghan people, and the integrity of the government in that process." But evidence given by a number of officials and voters tells a very different story, one in which the selling of votes to presidential candidates was common and the idea of the election being fair was laughable. He showed me a series of photographs taken inside a brown cardboard voting booth in a village in Paktiya province of Afghanistan. One shows a man marking a big pile of ballot papers in the name of Hamid Karzai. Another shows a pile of election ID cards spread in front of an unidentified man wearing black shoes. He had intended to hand his photographs to his superiors, he said, but as Election Day unfolded it became obvious that his superiors were themselves taking part in the fraud. "I thought I would give the pictures to the election committee. But they were all working for Karzai." Fearing he had been spotted taking the pictures, he fled to Kabul. "Everyone was cheating in my polling station. Only 10% voted, but they registered 100% turnout. One man brought five books of ballots, each containing 100 votes, and stuffed them in the boxes after the elections were over." The election official came from the district of Ahmad Aba in Paktiya, an area of dusty hills framed by high, ragged mountains and typical Afghan hamlets with mud-walled compounds, cornfields and orchards. I sat there with half a dozen men on an embankment in the shadow of willow and apple trees. They were waiting for the Ramadan fast to pass, fumbling with their plastic prayer beads. Boys sat in a bigger circle behind the men and behind them shoes, a prosthetic leg and flip-flops were stacked. As the men relaxed and smilingly described the election day, it became clear that what would constitute large-scale fraud in western context meant little more to them than the usual haggling over chicken or vegetables in a market. Behind the embankment, the women and girls stood in a stream, washing clothes. Another three were scrubbing the metal gate of a nearby compound, preparing for the end of Ramadan. A man with a shiny black turban joined the circle. Told what we were discussing, he laughed. "On polling day the people who did the cheating were the officials," he said. "They worked for the candidates." His family had voted, he said, but the women hadn't gone to the polling station. Their ballots were sold to the candidates' representatives. "Only four old women cast their votes." The vote had come down to a battle of budgets, with agents for both Karzai and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, giving money in exchange for votes. The election monitor insisted it was a "democratic" area, meaning only that they were not hostile to government. They were educated and many worked in the government, but they had also worked in all previous governments. Like many differences in Afghanistan, the cheating had run along ethnic lines. In the villages, where people were predominantly Pashtun, they had generally cheated for Karzai, but in the provincial capital, Gardez, the mostly Tajik people had cheated for Abdullah Abdullah.

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