Afghan observers question election as tally starts

 Afghan election observers said they had serious concerns about the legitimacy of this weekend’s parliamentary balloting as officials began Sunday to tally the results — a process that could take months.

Saturday’s balloting holds a chance of redemption for a government that lost much of its credibility both with Afghans and its international backers due to a fraud-tainted presidential vote a year ago. But a showering of rocket attacks, polling station closures and charges that anti-fraud measures broke down mean the vote counting and investigation of complaints will have to be particularly rigorous to guarantee a legitimate outcome.

The country’s international backers rallied around the government as polls closed with praise for those who voted and hope for a democratic result, but the main Afghan observer group said the quality of the balloting was questionable.

The Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan said it “has serious concerns about the quality of elections,” given the insecurity and numerous complaints of fraud. FEFA deployed about 7,000 people around the country, making it the largest observer of the parliamentary vote. Many international observer groups scaled back their operations from last year because of security concerns.

At least 11 civilians and three police officers were killed during the voting, according to the Interior Ministry, amid 33 bomb explosions and 63 rocket strikes nationwide. The attacks appeared to have the desired effect, as many polling sites had light turnout. A number of polling stations were closed because of security problems, causing some in safer areas to run out of ballots.

The Afghan election commission has yet to provide an overall turnout figure but said late Saturday that 3.6 million people cast ballots at the 86 percent of polling stations that had reported figures so far. Nearly 6 million ballots were cast in the presidential vote last year out of 17 million registered voters. The election commission said before Saturday’s vote that its plan would allow a maximum of 11.4 million voters — an acknowledgment that turnout was not expected to be high.

Throughout Saturday’s balloting, complaints that anti-fraud measures were being ignored or weren’t working poured in from across the country. People said the indelible ink that is supposed to stain voters’ fingers for 72 hours could be washed off. In some polling stations, observers said poll workers were letting people vote with obviously fake voter cards.

“Ballot stuffing was seen to varying extents in most provinces, as were proxy voting and underage voting,” FEFA said.

At a polling station in Sancery village in southern Kandahar province, one man said hundreds of people in his village of about 600 gave their voting cards to the village elder, who cast their ballots for them.