U.N. aide defends Afghan election despite wide fraud
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KABUL -- Days before the outcome of Afghanistan's contentious presidential vote was expected to be announced, the head of the United Nations' mission acknowledged yesterday that widespread electoral fraud had occurred.
However, the official, Kai Eide, strongly contested allegations by his former deputy that he had engaged in a cover-up of vote-rigging by supporters of President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Eide also expressed confidence that a partial recount, carried out by Afghan officials and under review by a U.N.-backed body, would yield an acceptable result.
Mr. Eide described the election as "a difficult process, marred by so many problems, not least ... by widespread fraud." But he said oversight procedures laid out in the Afghanistan Constitution were meant to weed out invalid votes.
"There is a united international community behind this approach, and in my view, it is the only viable road to follow," he said.
Mr. Eide's highly unusual public appeal was the latest twist in the bitter election dispute, which comes against a backdrop of difficult deliberations by the Obama administration over whether to send as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
The tainted election has been an enormous disappointment to Western powers, which had hoped that the Aug. 20 vote would provide a strong mandate to Afghanistan's central government and help galvanize a troubled war effort. Instead, wrangling over the results has heightened ethnic tensions and disillusioned many Afghans.
At his news conference, Mr. Eide offered his most detailed rebuttal yet of accusations put forth by veteran U.S. diplomat Peter W. Galbraith, his former deputy. Mr. Galbraith was fired by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month after the dimensions of his dispute with Mr. Eide became embarrassingly public.
Acknowledging that he and Mr. Galbraith had clashed over so-called ghost polling stations, Mr. Eide said many Afghans would have been unable to vote if he had followed his deputy's call to close stations where the security situation would prevent observers from being present.
He also denied he had covered up reports of ballot-stuffing and other forms of fraud, saying he had refused only to make public allegations that could not be independently corroborated.
The dispute has split the U.N. mission, which confirmed that four staffers who had worked for Mr. Galbraith resigned after he was fired. However, Mr. Eide's defense of himself and the electoral process was accompanied by a pointed affirmation of support from Western envoys. Ambassadors from the United States, Britain, Germany and France attended his news conference in a show of solidarity.
It remains to be seen, though, whether the recount, which was based on a statistical sampling, will deprive the Afghan leader of the majority Mr. Karzai needs to avoid a runoff with his leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. The initial tally gave Mr. Karzai nearly 55 percent of the vote, but Western election observers have said at least one-fifth of the votes required additional scrutiny.
No date has been set for an announcement of the final result, but senior election officials have said it probably will be toward the end of this week. A White House decision on troop levels is expected this month.
First Published October 12, 2009 12:00 am