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U.N. Panel Rejects Some Karzai Votes


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris in Washington.


And I'm Melissa Block at NPR West in California this week.

In Afghanistan today, fraud investigators moved to throw out significant numbers of ballots cast for President Hamid Karzai during August's disputed election. The U.N.-backed panel sent its findings to the country's electoral commission. The team investigating alleged fraud did not give specific numbers on how many votes were discounted for each candidate, but independent analysts say hundreds of thousands of votes will be tossed out. NPR's Jackie Northam joins us from Kabul. And Jackie, you've been reviewing this report from the U.N. investigators. What does it say?

JACKIE NORTHAM: Well, Melissa it's a very detailed and rather complicated report about the types of fraud the complaints committee investigated and about how the commissioners went about auditing the suspected ballots. What the report doesn't explicitly say though - and it's what really everybody who is watching this election process is waiting for - is whether or not the final tally will give incumbent president Hamid Karzai more than 50 percent of the vote, which is what he would need to avoid a runoff election against his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah.

Now again, those figures aren't explicitly laid out in this report. However, it does talk about the percentage of votes that are considered tainted and, therefore, are to be discarded. And so, that's giving folks who are doing the numbers a good idea of how the final tally will look.

BLOCK: And as they look at that final tally, as they try to sort through the numbers, would that mean that Hamid Karzai's numbers, in fact, fell below 50 percent and there would be a runoff?

NORTHAM: Well, that is appearing increasingly likely, for a number of groups that are looking at this. And one of those groups doing the calculations is Democracy International. It's a U.S.-based election-monitoring group and had people on the ground here during the August 20th vote. Now, Democracy International says it's analyzed earlier data, the preliminary votes, then applied that to the percentage of votes that are now needed to be invalidated, and they're looking at hundreds of thousands of votes - invalidated votes in Karzai's case. And Democracy International says Karzai just got over 48 percent of the vote. And they also say that his main rival, Abdullah, received just over 31 percent. The U.S. Institute of Peace also reached similar conclusions. Between the two calculations though, it appears there should be a runoff election between those two men.

BLOCK: What has Hamid Karzai had to say about that?

NORTHAM: Well, we - NPR talked with a spokesman for the Karzai campaign and he said the report should not have been made public before it was certified by the electoral commission, that they still have concerns about the way that this investigating panel worked. And the spokesman also said there were concerns that the commission, in investigating this fraud, was politically influenced and really had too much foreign interference. There were three Westerners on the five-man panel. And that's a charge with the investigating panel actually denies. On the other side, a spokesman for Abdullah's campaign told NPR that the report was thorough and accurate and they welcomed it. So, you got the two obvious sides there.

BLOCK: What about the logistics of organizing a runoff if it comes to it. There have been concerns that with winter coming, it would be very hard to get this done obviously during the winter months. Could they do it before that?

NORTHAM: Yes, they would be pressed but they probably could do it. They've got ballots already in place here. They've got the ink, you know, know how they have to put their finger in the inkwell to show that they have voted. There are other problems though. You know, there's no guarantee that there won't be the same amount of fraud next time around because a lot of these places where the fraud occurred were really in remote areas where, you know, electoral observers couldn't go to those areas and that type of thing. So, again, even if they could mount a runoff election, there's no real guarantee that we won't be - Afghanistan won't be facing same problem as it is now.

BLOCK: And Jackie, given these findings, given the numbers of votes that have been rejected now, do you think this makes it more likely that a power-sharing agreement might be reached?

NORTHAM: Yes, that seems to be one of the key - one of the main options here. Karzai's people over the weekend were saying he absolutely rejects the idea of a runoff election, that just seemed to be a nonstarter. He is not taking the same stand with the power-sharing deal. So that might be an option. There's a lot of negotiations going on right now here in Kabul, Melissa, to try to sort this out. And that does seem to be one of the options that they're looking at.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Jackie Northam in Kabul. Jackie, thank you very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: And in Washington today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that President Karzai told her he will announce his intentions tomorrow. Clinton said I am very hopeful that we will see a resolution in line with the constitutional order in the next several days. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.