KABUL -- It's likely to be weeks before official results from the first round of Afghanistan's presidential election are announced. But that hasn't stopped candidates' campaign teams from trying to get a leg up on the competition by compiling a count of the vote themselves and accumulating evidence -- fabricated or real -- of fraud committed by their rivals.
Under new election rules designed to improve transparency and eliminate fraud, the more than 20,000 polling stations scattered across the country are each printing and then publicly posting their local results after the votes are counted. The new practice has inspired campaign teams, as well as thousands of individual supporters, to make mad dashes to collect and call in these vote tallies from around the country to foster the impression that the vote is favoring their chosen candidate.
The most active candidate taking advantage of this trend has been Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and one of the favorites to become the country's next president. His campaign team has set up a website, Online Results Web
, with pie charts, percentages, and graphs that show partial results as they come in. As might be expected, Ghani's website is predicting that he is on track to claim an outright victory with around 58 percent of the national vote, with more than one-quarter of the ballots counted.
Ghani isn't the only one.
The campaign team of former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, another front-runner, has likewise called in results from around the country. They, too, claim to have won the most votes so far.
Abdullah and Ghani's supporters have become embroiled in an escalating war of words on social-networking websites like Twitter and Facebook over who is winning, with many users accusing the opposite camps of fabricating results. The two teams have likewise accused Afghan media outlets, which are also printing or broadcasting partial results, of being biased.
Abdullah's campaign team, for example, has pointed the finger at the Pajhwok news agency, which it claims is working for Ghani's team. Pajhwok has reported that Ghani secured around 42 percent of the vote, while Abdullah received around 40 percent, based on information it has collated from Kabul and several other provinces.
The partial results apparently show a tight race between Ghani and Abdullah.
An unscientific tour of polling stations in Kabul, where 20 percent of the Afghan population lives, showed that Abdullah was firmly in the lead, followed by Ghani, with Zalmai Rasul, another former foreign minister, lagging behind in third place.
In other areas of northern and eastern Afghanistan, Ghani seems to be in the lead. Rasul appears to be trailing both Abdullah and Ghani in many areas.
A second-round showdown between Ghani and Abdullah seems likely, with both looking unable to win an outright victory. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held in late May.
Meanwhile, the five other candidates who took part in the election have been venting their frustration and anger at the publication of partial results, which they have described as "illegal" and a "joke." They say the practice misrepresents the results and conveys a damaging false impression before the official tallies are announced.
Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) has also weighed in, saying that any results announced by news agencies or candidates' websites are "not acceptable." The IEC has said it will not be rushed into announcing the results and has called on all candidates to exercise restraint and patience.
Fears Of Fraud
Besides calling in results, the campaign teams of the three front-runners are also collecting voter complaints, as well as photos and videos showing alleged fraud being committed in favor of rival candidates. Hundreds of campaigners sitting behind their laptops have been sending what they say is evidence of fraud to the electoral bodies. Others are simply spreading rumors on Twitter without any proof.
was posted on Facebook on April 6. It appears to show a group of people in Baghlan Province confiscating a pile of ballots they claim were fraudulent but that were marked for Rasul. There are numerous other videos casting aspersions on Abdullah and Ghani making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook.
All three front-runners allege that they are the victims of fraud and have lodged dozens of complaints with the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).
Fears of ballot-box stuffing and government interference are high after the country's last presidential election, in 2009, was marred by widespread vote-rigging. This time, most of the candidates deployed tens of thousands of their own observers to monitor polling centers.
The ECC has said that, despite receiving complaints against all eight presidential candidates, the 2014 vote was "less fraudulent" compared to the 2009 election, when more than 1 million votes were disqualified.
Still, allegations of electoral fraud are mounting. The ECC says it has formally registered 3,103 complaints about the April 5 vote, but that not all are supported by evidence. The majority of complaints are about lack of access to voting sites, shortages of ballot papers, fake voting cards, and pressure by security forces and electoral authorities to vote for certain candidates.
"Based on these complaints we have registered, we cannot ignore the fact that during the elections there were instances of fraud and electoral violation," Nadir Mohseni, an ECC spokesman, said on April 8. "Certainly there was fraud and violations. We promise to the people of Afghanistan that we will defend the clean and pure vote that you have cast and we will safeguard it."
Abdullah, a runner-up in the 2009 election, has alleged ballot-box stuffing and threats to voters and observers. Ghani and Rasul have similarly alleged tampering and intimidation.
"The lack of sufficient ballot papers all over the country, especially in the north and in Kabul, needs to be investigated and explained," Ghani said. "We are hoping that the Afghan Election Commission will provide the necessary explanation and give our people an explanation of these particular matters -- fraud allegations, shortage of ballot papers, and so on."
Ghani and Abdullah, meanwhile, have complained that the government machinery was used in favor of Rasul, a claim he has denied. Rasul is widely believed to be outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai's favored candidate.