KABUL: One of the two Afghans
on a UN-backed commission looking into vote fraud in
the August presidential election resigned today, citing interference by foreigners.
Officials acknowledged
errors and miscommunication have plagued the investigation into alleged cheating in
the August ballot.
Once the election results become clear, President Barack Obama is expected to complete a review of Afghan strategy to cope with a deepening insurgency and decide whether to accept a recommendation by his top commander here, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for up to 40,000 more troops.
The top UN official in Afghanistan has said “widespread fraud” marred the August 20 vote, highlighting the extent to which the poll is undermining the credibility of the Afghan government.
But the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission is repeatedly held up as the potential savior of the election. Western and Afghan officials have said they trust the panel to root out fraudulent votes and produce a fair outcome.
The panel’s rulings on how many votes to throw out will
determine whether the
vote goes to a runoff between President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah
Abdullah.
Preliminary results show Karzai winning with about
54 per cent of the vote, but
if enough votes are voided,
he could dip below the
50 per cent needed to avoid a second round.
In announcing his resignation from the commission, Maulavi Mustafa Barakzia alleged that the three foreigners on the panel — one American, one Canadian and one
Dutch national — were “making all decisions on their own” without consultation.
A spokeswoman for the complaints commission rejected
the allegation.
Barakzia “was an integral part of the commission and took part equally in all commissioner meetings,” said Nellika Little. She said his resignation will not interrupt the group’s work.
UN spokesman Aleem
Siddique called the resignation “regrettable” but said
the UN continues to trust
that the group will produce a fair outcome.
“We have full confidence in the ECC as the important work continues,” Siddique said, adding that the UN “stands by the work that they are doing on behalf of the Afghan people.” Barakzia was appointed by the Afghan Supreme Court.
It was not immediately clear if the court will be able to appoint a replacement.
Meanwhile, the head of the commission, Canadian Grant Kippen, said a number of errors of interpretation have slowed or complicated the investigation and partial recount.
The process started a week ago. Officials have finished examining a sampling of suspect ballot boxes, but rulings are likely to take days.
Kippen acknowledged that the commission had misinterpreted the statistical analysis that would be used to decide what percentage of votes to void for each candidate. He told reporters last week that each candidate would lose votes in proportion to the number of fraudulent ballots cast for them in a sampling of suspect boxes.
Instead, each candidate will lose the same percentages of suspect votes, based on the number of fraudulent ballots found in the sample, Kippen said today.
He said the actual process has not changed and that it is
statistically sound, but that confusion stemmed from
miscommunication between
statisticians who designed the mathematical procedure and commissioners whose role is to determine whether the individual boxes are fraudulent.
He said the mistake was caught and explained to
candidate representatives before the commissioners started on their decisions. “It hasn’t affected the process,” he said. “It has probably affected people’s perception of the process.”
This follows a number of missteps that have delayed the fraud investigations.
When the complaints commission first issued its order to Afghan election officials to audit and recount ballots last month, the officials said there were problems in the translation from English to the Afghan
language of Dari.
New translations were issued and a system for counting a sample of the nearly 3,400 suspect ballot boxes instituted.