The chief challenger in the Afghan presidential elections has accused incumbent Hamid Karzai of being personally responsible for vote-rigging, in the most direct attack so far against his former boss.
Preliminary results are not due to be published until tomorrow, but yesterday Abdullah Abdullah, once a foreign minister under Karzai, held a press conference in the capital Kabul to accuse his rival of fraud. “Widespread rigging has taken place by the incumbent, through his campaign team, and through the state apparatus, through government officials,” Mr Abdullah said.
“This is under his leadership that all these things are happening, and all these people who are responsible for this fraud in parts of the country are appointed by him. This should and could have been stopped by him,” he said.
Mr Abdullah said his team had already lodged more than 100 complaints with election officials, providing detailed accounts of ballot-stuffing. He said government officials, including a police chief and a senior election official, had stuffed ballot boxes in favour of Mr Karzai at six districts in the provinces of Kandahar and Ghazni. He also claimed that monitors working on his side had been physically prevented from entering several voting sites.
The president's campaign team dismissed the allegations as a response to defeat. “They have been saying things about fraud even before the elections took place,” said spokesman Waheed Omar. “Losing candidates often try to justify their loss in this way.”
The prospect of an electoral dispute between Mr Abdullah, whose core supporters are Tajiks from the north, and Mr Karzai, who draws the bulk of his support from the Pashtun south, has stoked fears of ethnic violence erupting, similar to the civil war years of the 1990s. However, yesterday Mr Abdullah urged his supporters to remain calm while the country's Election Complaints Commission — an independent body where international officials have majority control — investigates the cases.
President Karzai, who was installed as Afghanistan's interim president in 2001 and went on to win the country's first-ever presidential ballot in 2004, needs to capture more than 50% of the votes to secure an outright first-round win and another five years in power. Opinion polls in the run-up to last Thursday's vote had predicted that Mr Abdullah had a strong chance of forcing a run-off vote.