A UN-backed fraud commission threw out votes from 83 polling stations and ordered recounts at hundreds of others in three provinces that form Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s political base, reducing his chances of avoiding a runoff.
The ruling on Thursday was the first time the commission has flexed its muscles in the aftermath of an Aug. 20 presidential election marred by allegations of ballot stuffing, phantom polling stations and turnout at some polls that exceeded 100 percent of registered voters.
In an interview with The Associated Press, former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s chief challenger, said the massive scale of what he called “state-engineered” fraud has become clear only as the numbers have trickled out over the past three weeks.
With results in from 92 percent of the country’s polling stations, Karzai has 54 percent of the vote, according to the latest official count. That would be enough to avoid a runoff election with Abdullah, who has 28 percent.
But if the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission invalidates enough votes, Karzai’s margin could drop below 50 percent, forcing him to face Abdullah one-on-one in a second round of voting.
Decisions by this fraud commission are final under Afghanistan’s electoral law. The group — comprised of one American, one Canadian, one from the Netherlands and two Afghans — is releasing decisions from each province as investigations finish.
On Thursday, the commission threw out ballots from 51 polling stations in Kandahar province, 27 in Ghazni and five in Paktika.
Although it did not say how many ballots were invalidated, thousands are likely involved. It ordered election officials to recount votes in hundreds of other voting centers across the three districts in the presence of observers, commission members and representatives of the candidates.
All three provinces are dominated by voters who, like Karzai, are ethnic Pashtuns and form the president’s political base.
The Karzai-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC), which is conducting the count, says it has deducted questionable votes from its totals.
However, that commission’s Web site still lists results from one polling center in the Kandahar city of Spin Boldak where Karzai received exactly 3,000 votes, 600 from each of the five polling stations.
Statisticians say such uniform results are highly unlikely and evidence of fraud.
“Of course there were fears and concerns about the possibility of fraud or rigging,” Abdullah told reporters. “But ... when you investigate it, then you see that the whole thing was state-engineered and unfortunately in collaboration with the IEC, in most cases.”
Abdullah said he expected that, once the fraudulent ballots are excluded, Karzai’s margin would drop below 50 percent, triggering a runoff.
There are about 770 polling states still being counted in Kandahar, according to the IEC Web site, meaning the 51 thrown out in the province represent about 5 percent of voting sites.