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Few election complaints reported in Afghanistan, officials say

Workers of Afghan Independent Election Commission compiled presidential elections results in Kabul Tuesday.

PARWIZ SABAWOON/EPA

Workers of Afghan Independent Election Commission compiled presidential elections results in Kabul Tuesday.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan presidential election on Saturday appeared to be substantially cleaner than the widely discredited 2009 election, according to complaint figures released Tuesday by the authorities here.

None of the leading candidates have said so far that they would dispute this year’s balloting, whose results have not yet been announced. Widespread complaints about ballot-box stuffing in 2009 led the country’s Independent Election Complaints Commission to order a recount, which cost President Hamid Karzai the outright majority that he initially appeared to have secured, though he still won a second term.

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The spokesman for the commission, Nader Mohseni, said Tuesday that the voting process had gone much better this year. “The scale of fraud and violations in this election was much lower compared to previous elections,” Mohseni said, citing both international and Afghan election observers.

In the 48-hour period for filing complaints, which ended Monday night, the commission recorded 1,573 formal complaints, Mohseni said. “Compared with 7.5 million people who voted, that number is very small; it’s almost nothing,” he said. “That’s what the international observers believe as well.” He said that 228 of the complaints were lodged against one or another of the eight presidential candidates or their campaigns.

By contrast, the commission recorded 2,842 complaints after the 2009 election, according to the National Democratic Institute. The institute had international monitors in Afghanistan in 2009 and tried again this year, but withdrew the monitors shortly before the voting after one was killed in an attack by insurgents.

Under Afghan election law, the candidates are supposed to refrain from claiming victory until the official results are released, which may not come until April 24, officials have said.

“In addition to urging presidential candidates and their supporters to respect the work of the IEC and IECC,” said Jan Kubis, the chief U.N. official here, referring to the election commission and the complaints commission, “I also call on them to await the release of official results and counsel them against making premature announcements based on unofficial counts, as these could lead to confusion.”

Nonetheless, of the three major candidates, two have let it be known that they believed they had won outright by taking more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round.

One candidate — Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official and longtime Karzai aide — went as far as posting a pie chart on his personal Facebook page showing 57 percent of the vote for him, with Abdullah Abdullah, the runner-up in 2009, supposedly receiving 26 percent and Zalmay Rassoul, Karzai’s former foreign minister and the candidate widely believed to be his favorite, a distant third with 10 percent. The pie chart was apparently based on tabulations of 5.12 million votes compiled by Ghani’s campaign.

“Congratulations to him,” Abdullah said mockingly of Ghani’s claims, which were later withdrawn from his Facebook page. “And he’s been very gracious in according me, also, some votes in the country, so I’m grateful.”

In an interview Monday, Abdullah said that his 20,000 observers had reported results to him, but that he was going to wait until the election commission released its official tallies before speaking publicly about his own. “We have to respect the rule of law here,” he said.

But people involved in his campaign released figures they said were based on analysis of 2.25 million votes (about one-third of the total cast), showing Abdullah with 50 percent; by their reckoning, Ghani was running second with 38 percent and Rassoul third with 10 percent.

Whatever the credibility of these rival counts, it seemed likely that the contest was coming down to Ghani and Abdullah. Ghani claimed as much in an interview Sunday: “The pattern has become clear, the losers are clear. It has become a two-way race, whatever else one says.”

For his part, Rassoul has been silent about the results, and efforts to reach his campaign spokesmen for comment were unsuccessful. His supporters are not making much effort to counter the claims of the other two major candidates. Gen. Helaluddin Helal, a former deputy interior minister who worked on Rassoul’s campaign, said his two opponents’ tallies were suspect, and in some places showed more votes cast than there were residents to cast them. “Those votes are not real votes,” he said. “Rassoul is not giving up.”

Still, a former Afghan official who is close to Rassoul said his campaign had concluded that it would most likely place third behind Ghani and Abdullah.

The Rassoul campaign had invested its last-minute hopes in wooing away Ghani’s vice-presidential candidate, Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek warlord who they believed could deliver as many as 1 million votes. Dostum had originally said he would run with Rassoul, but shortly before the deadline for formal nominations in October, he switched to Ghani’s camp at the urging of Karzai, who was barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

Rassoul was the only one of the three major candidates who made a clear promise to accept whatever results the election commission announces. Ghani and Abdullah have each praised the election as relatively clean, but both have registered complaints of irregularities and stopped short of committing to accept the official outcome.

“The scale of the fraud is not massive,” Ghani said. Abdullah said the 2014 poll was “much cleaner” than 2009 and that he “would accept the results in accordance with the process, yes, whatever, anything — but not ballot papers from the sky.”

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In 2009, after millions of votes were disallowed, Karzai was persuaded by the election authorities and by diplomats from the United States and United Nations to stop claiming a first-round victory and accept a runoff with Abdullah. But Abdullah declined to contest the runoff: He said it was because Karzai refused to address election irregularities; Karzai’s supporters said it was because it was clear that he would lose.

There were major differences in campaign monitoring this year, compared with 2009. The five-member complaints commission had three foreign members in 2009, but this year it is entirely Afghan. Similarly, there was extensive international influence over the election commission in 2009; this year it is headed by Mohammad Yusuf Nuristani, a former spokesman for Karzai’s government. Even so, international monitoring groups and U.N. officials have praised both bodies for doing a credible job. And in the years since 2009, a small army of Afghans have been trained as poll-watchers and monitors, working for political parties and civic organizations as well as international groups.

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Mohseni of the complaints commission said it would take time to investigate the reports of irregularities, and he did not rule out possible action. “The fact that the election was successful does not mean there has not been fraud and violations during the election,” he said.

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