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Afghan frustration mounts over vote result delay
Tue Oct 13, 2009 10:53am EDT
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By Sean Maguire and Jonathon Burch
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan politicians on Tuesday expressed frustration over delays to the outcome of the August presidential election, held up by elaborate efforts to wipe clean the widespread fraud that marred the vote.
Nearly two months after polling day, Afghanistan's election watchdog is still sifting through mountains of dubious ballots to determine if President Hamid Karzai is the outright winner or must face a second vote against his runner-up.
The protracted process has kindled tension between Karzai and his Western backers, left Afghanistan in political limbo and helped delay a decision by President Barack Obama on sending the extra troops his battlefield commander has said he needs.
"The people of Afghanistan have the right to know who will be the next president and whether we will we go to a second round or not," Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta told Reuters.
"To leave the people in this vacuum, this is not in our interest. In this regard we have our differences (with our international partners)," added Spanta.
Karzai has pressed to have his 54.6 percent first round victory confirmed quickly, but the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) is resisting, giving hope to lead challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Western ambassadors have lined up to back the ECC, irritating Karzai, who has criticized unnamed "outside circles" for interfering in the Afghan election.
In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," Karzai cast doubt on the ECC, saying "it needed to prove it is impartial and fair."
"We must not turn an election of the Afghan people -- a victory of the Afghan people -- into a nightmare for the Afghan people," he said.
A Karzai-backer on the five-member ECC board quit on Monday, citing foreign interference in the count. A diplomatic source said it was a tactical move to avoid being associated with a ruling that would require a second round.
The ECC is examining around a quarter of the 5.66 million votes cast, before giving its verdict to the Afghan-run election commission and the final result is now not expected before Saturday at the earliest.
"Afghans are frustrated and the international community is frustrated with this delay in the announcement. It is having far reaching impact on economic and commercial activities in the country," Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told reporters.
Diplomats said the ECC was having to balance the thoroughness of its review with getting out a result quickly to enable any second round to take place before winter sets in. Many Afghans would be cut off by snow, pushing the vote into next spring.
"If the ECC takes an entirely purist approach that had the impact of disenfranchising large communities, that would also delegitimize the election," said British Ambassador Mark Sedwill. Continued...
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