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Posted: 10/10/2004 1:30:13 AM EST
[Last Edit: 10/10/2004 1:30:51 AM EST by vito113]
This is a bit of a bummer for the Left… Freedom and Democracy has come to Afghanistan courtesy of the 'Evil' Coalition!

Sorry Mr Kerry… seems it was all worthwhile!

Andy

Monitors say Afghan poll fair despite ink fiasco
Sun 10 October, 2004 09:53

By Raju Gopalakrishnan

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's historic presidential vote, which was held with great enthusiasm but ended in turmoil after most candidates announced a boycott, was mostly fair, independent observers have said.

President Hamid Karzai, the favourite to win, rejected calls from his rivals for fresh voting.

From the southern plains to the Hindu Kush mountains and northern steppes of the impoverished Islamic nation, millions turned out on Saturday to elect their leader for the first time, despite threats by Taliban fighters to sabotage the election.

Attacks on the vote did not materialise, but up to 40 people were killed in clashes, including 24 in a U.S. bombing raid.

But midway through the day, all 15 rivals of U.S.-backed Karzai said they were boycotting the poll because a system to prevent voting fraud had failed. Many demanded a new vote.

At issue was indelible ink put on the finger of everyone who voted to stop them voting again. But some election workers used the wrong pen to mark voters, and the ordinary marker ink was quickly washed off.

And with questions over the late and rapid registration of 10.5 million voter cards in a population of about 28 million, there were accusations of illegal multiple voting.

The largest group of independent election observers, the Free and Fair Election Foundations of Afghanistan, made up of 13 Afghan non-governmental organisations, said the vote was fair.

"The large participation of Afghans is an encouraging sign of people's participation in the democratic process," it said.

"While the reasons for the incorrectly applied indelible ink remain to be seen, a fairly democratic environment has generally been observed in the overall majority of polling centres."

COUNTING TO GO AHEAD

Abdul Satar Serat, one of Karzai's rivals and a spokesman for others, condemned the vote as illegal and against democracy.

"The result that comes out of this election will be an illegal result," he said.

Karzai said his rivals should respect the will of the people.

"I would advise my fellow countrymen, the 15 other candidates, that we must all respect the fact that millions of Afghans came out on foot, in rain and snow and dust and waited for hours to vote," he said.

"Just because 15 people have said 'No', we can't deny the votes of millions."

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation of Europe (OSCE), which had 40 experts accredited, said: "The millions who came to the polls clearly wanted to turn from the rule of the gun to the rule of law.

"The validity of elections results should be dealt with as the law provides. The candidates' demand to nullify the election is unjustified. Such action would put into question the express will of millions of Afghan citizens who came out to vote."

The Joint Election Management Body of U.N. and Afghan experts said the allegations of irregularities were serious and would be investigated. But it said counting, likely to begin on Monday after ballot boxes are collected on Sunday, would go ahead.

In Kabul's main Pul-i Khisti bazaar, back to its usual chaos after the vote, opinions were divided.

"I'm happy for what happened yesterday," said Mohammad Yousuf, his turban and a shawl framing his bearded face. "And to the person I voted for, I am appealing to him to please look after our country and help the poor."

But another man, Nasir Ahmad, said: "It is clear that yesterday's elections were fraudulent and illegal because a person can only vote once, not five times. They should hold another election."

The election came three years after U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime for harbouring Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks.

U.S. President George W. Bush, facing his own election next month, has claimed the Afghan vote as a foreign policy success and is hoping it can be mirrored in Iraq.

"Today's an appropriate day for Americans to remember and thank the men and women of our armed forces who liberated Afghanistan," Bush said as he campaigned in St. Louis.

He did not mention the poll boycott.

But the wait for a ruling on irregularities will be worrying for a nation made up of a patchwork of ethnic groups and often warring tribes, and held together for the last three years by Karzai's interim government.

"The greater risk during the counting period is probably the danger of rumour and conspiracy theories taking hold," said Thomas Muller, an analyst at the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit thinktank.

"And the problem with the ink yesterday is a prime example of where a problem occurs and it snowballs into a large issue."

Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun, the largest ethnic group. His opponents include several commanders from ethnic minority communities who fought the Taliban and have a fearsome reputation for warfare -- including the likes of Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Tajik leader Yunus Qanuni.

But the candidates are likely to come under pressure from Karzai and the international community to fall in line.

"If these candidates are serious about looking ahead to the parliamentary elections, or looking for a position in the cabinet, or looking to help Afghanistan in the future, there will have to be some compromise," said Afghan affairs expert and author Ahmed Rashid.

Nevertheless, Karzai's position may have been weakened even if he gets the 51 percent vote he needs to avoid a runoff in November. He may have to make concessions to rivals, perhaps the same powerful regional chieftains he would like to sideline.


www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=600273§ion=news
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