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Afghan Vote Questions May Take Months To Resolve

NOAH ADAMS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams filling in here for just one more day.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Great to have you in here, Noah.

In Afghanistan, it was a day of confusion. The election watchdog backed by the U.N. ordered a recount of ballots from last month's presidential election due to concerns over fraud. Soon afterward, Afghan election officials announced that President Hamid Karzai has received enough votes to be declared the outright winner. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson sorts through the conflicting reports from Kabul.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Hamid Karzai may have the votes on paper, but here in front of Kabul's popular city center mall, the question of who will be the country's next president is far from settled. Mohammed Akbar(ph) is a van driver waiting to pick up customers.

Mr. MOHAMMED AKBAR (Van Driver): (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says he could care less who wins, but he asked that on principle he wants ballots from last month's elections to be recounted if there was fraud.

(Soundbite of vehicles)

NELSON: In a nearby sweet shop, customer Sameer Roshan(ph) agrees a recount is needed.

Mr. SAMEER ROSHAN: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Roshan says he and others who went to the polls last month want their votes to mean something. He says they need to know the process is honest. Few here believe that is the case. That includes the three Western and the two Afghan members of the Electoral Complaints Commission. They announced they found clear and convincing evidence of fraud at a number of polling stations in three provinces where Karzai was the favorite candidate.

The U.N.-backed commission ordered Afghan election officials to recount ballots at polling centers with 100 percent turnout, and at polling stations where more than 95 of each 100 votes cast went to a particular candidate. Such turnouts and results are deemed questionable given Taliban attacks and voter apathy on Election Day. The spokesman for Karzai's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, lauded the commission's order saying it vindicates his camp and echoes what he has alleged all along.

Karzai's campaign officials couldn't be reached for comment. The commission ordered the recount to be done in front of the commission and other international and Afghan observers. Daoud Ali Najafi, who is Afghanistan's top election official, made it clear at a late afternoon news conference that he was not pleased with the Complaints Commission for a number of reasons.

Mr. DAOUD ALI NAJAFI (Chief Electoral Officer, Independent Election Commission, Afghanistan): Today, we received a decision from the ECC that the Dari version, the Persian version was - did not match with the English version. That was not clear. That is why we sent it officially back with a letter to the ECC and asked for explanation.

NELSON: Najafi says his workers have already set aside tainted votes from some 600 polling centers. He says the tally he released today representing nearly 92 percent of polling centers across Afghanistan is valid. That tally has Karzai receiving 54 percent of the votes and Abdullah trailing with 28 percent. Najafi adds the final count will be completed within the next few days.

Mr. NAJAFI: We should have all the result, all the polling decision, then based on that criteria, then we can implement what ECC ordered.

NELSON: He adds it could take months to do what the Complaints Commission is mandating, and the commission has made it clear it will not certify a final tally until the investigations and the recounts are complete. Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy here issued a statement calling on the candidates and their supporters to be patient and avoid pronouncements. It urged them to let the Election Commission and Complaints Commission finish their work. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry met with President Karzai last night and is said to have delivered that same message in person.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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