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Afghanistan: As Election Campaign Gets Rolling, Some Already Alleging Fraud

By Laura Winter With just a few days to go before Afghan officials announce a final list of candidates for presidential elections in October, some in the capital Kabul are alleging registration fraud. The controversy surrounds a registration requirement that each candidate submit photocopies of 10,000 voter-registration cards to prove he or she has sufficient public support. Now there's concern that government employees are being told whom to give their copies to -- and that some copies are being shared between the candidates.

Kabul, 6 August 2004 (RFE/RL) - Sometime next week (eds: probably Tuesday Aug 10), Afghanistan's more than nine million voters will learn the names of the candidates contesting the October 9 presidential election.

Some candidates are already well known -- like current Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai -- but the official list has not yet been finalized.

The UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) says some 22 people, including one woman, have applied for permission to campaign for the nation's top job. But even before active campaigning begins, some are questioning how the registration process has been carried out.

Marzia -- not her real name -- is a teacher in Kabul. She told RFE/RL that she's afraid of losing her job because she supports a candidate other than one backed by her employer, the Education Ministry. "[The officials at the ministry] didn't find out about us. If they found out about us we would have been punished," she said. "The other [teachers] were also told at a meeting at the Education Ministry not to give photocopies to anyone [other than the candidate the ministry is supporting]. We were warned that if we do we would be punished."
The stories of fraud are starting to breed some cynicism among the electorate -- ahead of a vote considered crucial to the country's democratic future.

Such allegations are difficult to prove. But at the JEMB office inside a United Nations compound, officials say they are concerned Marzia may not be alone. "We cannot do anything but we [are only] saying for the government official -- to those who are working for the government -- to keep themselves away from this kind of thing. It is the right of everybody to vote for their own candidate this year," Sadeq Mudaber, the JEMB's co-director of operations, told RFE/RL.

In these last few days before the final list is announced, election officials are examining the candidates' applications to make sure they meet the basic qualifications. The law requires each candidate to pay around $1,000 into a bank account set up to help pay for the election. They must also not have committed any crimes against humanity during the many years of unrest and war.

One of the most important requirements is for the 10,000 photocopies of voter-registration cards to prove a candidate has sufficient support to put him or her on the ballot. It's not clear yet whether all of the candidates can meet this last requirement. And there are some concerns that candidates who could not collect enough photocopies may have obtained extra ones illegally.

While this type of possible abuse is difficult to prove, one presidential candidate from the Panjshir Valley was brazen in explaining what he did with some of the extra photocopies he gathered in support of his bid. Abdul Hafiz Mansur, a 40-year-old newspaper editor, said he turned in more than 10,000 photocopies, and had another use for the thousands more he did not need.

"We gave some of the extra ones to the [election] commission, just in case they say one is not correct. And we brought some back with us. We also gave some to other candidates, who were short of cards. I don't want to name them," Mansur said.

The stories are starting to breed some cynicism among the electorate -- ahead of a vote considered crucial to the country's democratic future.

Latif Pedram is a 42-year-old spokesman for the Afghan National Congress, a loose affiliation of political parties that oppose Karzai and his government. They are fielding their own presidential candidate.

Pedram said he is not surprised about the misuse of the photocopies, and said, in fact, he believes the whole process is crooked. By way of a joke, he compared it to a camel: "Well, this election has been against the law from the beginning. Somebody asked the camel, 'Why isn't your neck straight?' The camel replied, 'Which part of my body is straight?' It will be illegal to the end."