Afghan election result appears beyond rescue

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United Nations officials must rue the day they tried to force Peter Galbraith, No. 2 at the UN mission in Kabul, to go quietly. Galbraith, a former United States diplomat, has been anything but quiet since the UN tried to gloss over the manner of his exit: He was sacked after a big fight with his boss, Kai Eide, about how to deal with the massive fraud in August's election.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/10/2009 (4797 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

United Nations officials must rue the day they tried to force Peter Galbraith, No. 2 at the UN mission in Kabul, to go quietly. Galbraith, a former United States diplomat, has been anything but quiet since the UN tried to gloss over the manner of his exit: He was sacked after a big fight with his boss, Kai Eide, about how to deal with the massive fraud in August’s election.

Galbraith has been complaining that not only did Eide fail to stop the cheating in the first place, he also “denied significant fraud had taken place.” In an article in The Washington Post on Oct. 4, he blamed Eide for not preventing “ghost polling stations,” in areas too dangerous to be secured or monitored, from receiving voting papers and ballot boxes. This meant boxes could be stuffed by allies of Hamid Karzai, the president. And he accused Eide of suppressing evidence collected by UN staff on polling day, showing a huge discrepancy between the trickle of people who voted and the large numbers of ballots recorded as cast. The UN says it needed to check the reports before releasing them.

Galbraith claims that almost one-third of the votes cast for Karzai were fraudulent. The corollary is that, had the election been blemish-free, Karzai would not have crossed the threshold of 50 per cent of votes needed to win without a second round. The preliminary tally shows Karzai with 55 per cent and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, his closest rival, at 28 per cent. Abdullah has seized on Galbraith’s comments, saying Eide had given a “green light to fraud.” Eide has testily denied any bias in favor of Karzai. But it is hard to see how a second round can now be avoided. If Karzai wins without one, Abdullah can cite Galbraith’s arguments to bolster a claim that the election was stolen.

Eide stresses “process,” arguing that the election can still be salvaged if the proper procedures are followed. These involve Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, under the orders of the foreign-controlled Election Complaints Commission. The IEC is examining 10 per cent of some 3,500 ballot boxes deemed suspicious, either because of an unusually high turnout or because almost all the votes went to one candidate. A final result is due around Oct. 15, almost two months after polling.

But not everyone is hopeful that this audit can rescue the election. The IEC has been shown to be riddled with incompetent, corrupt officials. Even if there is a second round it is unclear how the commission would reform itself in time. So far only four low-ranking officials have been sacked by the organization, which is full of Karzai’s appointees. And the ECC says it has no mandate to make recommendations that could improve a second round.

Ashraf Ghani, the fourth-placed candidate, argues that “process is the last refuge of the bureaucrat.” He is one of a small but growing group who believe the election is so tainted it should be abandoned altogether. Other options include a loya jirga, or grand assembly, to pick a new president. Francesc Vendrell, a former special representative in Afghanistan for both the UN and the European Union, argues that for the foreign powers to accept this election would be an “enormous error.” He would like to see an interim government and fresh elections under a new IEC next year. If that happened, Galbraith would have helped bring down a process he only wanted conducted more rigorously.

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