In the southern Afghan district of Shorabak, the tribesmen gathered shortly before last month’s presidential election to discuss which candidate they would back. After a debate they chose to endorse Abdullah Abdullah, President Hamid Karzai’s leading opponent.
The tribal leaders prepared to deliver a landslide for Abdullah – but it never happened. They claim Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother and leader of the Kandahar provincial council, detained the local governor and closed all the district’s 46 polling sites on election day.
The ballot boxes were taken back to the district headquarters where, tribal leaders allege, they were stuffed with ballots by local policemen. A total of 23,900 ballots were finally sent off to Kabul, the capital – every one of them a vote for Karzai.
The alleged fraud, which Ahmed Wali Karzai denies, was the most blatant example among hundreds of incidents that have threatened to make a mockery of the election.
The sheer scale and audacity of the cheating, which includes supposedly “state-sponsored” ballot-stuffing, vote burning, intimidation and the closure of polling stations in antigovernment areas, has overwhelmed the country’s fledgling Electoral Complaints Commission.
Its staff are battling with more than 2,600 reports of vote-rigging, including at least 650 deemed serious enough “materially” to influence the result.
“This is a blatant violation of the procedure and I think it is stealing in daylight,” Abdullah said yesterday.
His aides say privately that if Karzai wins the 50.1% of votes needed for victory in the first round, they won’t accept the result. Abdullah said he intended to use all legal means to challenge any Karzai victory; his supporters talked menacingly of “Iran-style protests with Kalashnikovs”.
So this is the test: do we really care about bringing democracy to Afghanistan?