Fraud fears grow as poll body upsets UN’s plan

KABUL: To the fury of United Nations officials in Kabul, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that it planned to open 155 more polling stations — up from 6,167 to 6,322 — than during the first vote on August 20, despite repeated claims by the UN that there would be a reduction.

Ever since an official inquiry uncovered almost 1m fraudulent votes cast in favour of the president, Hamid Karzai, the country’s western backers have insisted fewer centres would be opened in the run-off on November 7. But the IEC said assurances by Afghanistan’s security chiefs that conditions had improved in some areas of the country allowed for the opening of more centres. In the first round, polling stations operated in areas that were so insecure that election monitors were unable to deter wholesale ballot stuffing. Karzai’s main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, has said he would only participate if 500 polling centres were closed and the head of the IEC was sacked.

UN staff said the IEC decision meant voting would still take place in areas where fraud was known to have been committed first time round or in areas where almost no one turned out to vote. A western diplomat closely involved in organising the vote said the news was a “punch in the stomach because everything we asked them to do they rejected”. He said it had shattered morale among election workers, already at a low ebb after six UN members of staff involved in election preparations were killed by a Taliban hit squad in an attack on a guesthouse in Kabul on Wednesday.

“This coming on top of yesterday’s incident — there really is only so much you can take for this progress,” he said. Another official said the decision was “absurd” and that “one really has to question the motives of the IEC”. Despite claims that fraud would be reduced in the second round, election observers believe a clean vote is impossible.