/ 21 August 2009

Karzai, chief rival both claim victory in Afghan vote

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s campaign and chief rival Abdullah Abdullah both claimed victory on Friday in Afghanistan’s election, each camp saying preliminary results showed there would be no need for a second round run-off.

”Initial results show that the president has got a majority,” Deen Mohammad told Reuters, although he said it was the duty of the election commission to announce the official results.

”We will not get to a second round. We have got a majority.”

Abdullah, Karzai’s former foreign minister, dismissed the Karzai camp’s victory claim and said preliminary results showed he was on track to win in the first round.

”I’m ahead. Initial results results from the provinces show that I have more than 50% of the vote,” Abdullah told Reuters by telephone in Kabul.

Election officials said no confirmed results had been released. Mohammad said the Karzai campaign’s estimate of victory was based on reports from about 29 000 monitors the campaign had at polling stations throughout the country.

Official preliminary results are not due for two weeks, but counting began immediately after polls closed on Thursday and is largely complete.

Polls conducted before the election showed Karzai in the lead but suggested he would not win more than 50% of the vote and faced a second round run-off against Abdullah in October.

Patience urged
The 6 200 polling stations are required to make their results available to the public as they tabulate them to prevent fraud.

Zekria Barakzai, deputy head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) urged patience.

”We cannot confirm any claims by campaigning managers. It’s the job of the election commission to declare the results. They should be patient,” Barakzai said.

The United Nations mission in Kabul and the US embassy both said no result was legitimate until endorsed by the IEC.

”We’ve seen the reports, but only the IEC is in a position to announce official results. Anything else is just speculation,” said US embassy spokesperson Fleur Cowan.

An independent Afghan monitoring body, FEFA, said it was concerned about the quality of Thursday’s elections after receiving reports from its observers across the country of fraud and interference.

There had been reports of improper interference and allegations of bias by election officials, it said in a statement issued after polls closed on Thursday.

FEFA also said fewer female polling stations had been opened than planned and that its observers reported cases of men voting on behalf of women. It said it was still assessing the reports.

Afghan officials and their US protectors have breathed a sigh of relief after the relatively peaceful election, which Taliban militants failed to disrupt despite sporadic attacks across the country.

Barakzai said two convoys of election workers transporting ballot boxes had been attacked following the vote. In one case in Balkh province in the north, an election worker was killed and ballots that had already been counted were burned.

He said preliminary figures showed overall turnout was about 40% to 50%. This would be roughly in line with estimates by Western diplomats before the poll.

Much is likely to depend on turnout in southern areas, such as Karzai’s home province of Kandahar, where the president draws his strongest support but where voters faced the brunt of Taliban attacks and intimidation.

Abdullah’s spokesperson Fazl Sangcharaki said the north had voted solidly for Abdullah, except in Jowzjan province, home of Uzbek militia chieftain Abdul Rashid Dostum, who returned to the country days before the vote to campaign for Karzai.

Western backers have expressed concern about Karzai’s tactic of seeking support from former militia chiefs, afraid that deals made to secure votes could bring warlords back to power.

In Washington, United States President Barack Obama hailed the conduct of the election and vowed to press on with his strategy, which has involved sending thousands of additional troops to the country.

”We had what appears to be a successful election in Afghanistan, despite the Taliban’s efforts to disrupt it,” Obama said from the White House.

”We have to focus on finishing the job in Afghanistan but it is going to take some time.”

The election was a test for Obama’s new strategy aimed at reversing Taliban gains. US combat casualties have risen amid a US troop buildup and opinion polls have shown weakening American backing for the war. — Reuters