JEMB discounts incidents of election irregularities

With close to 80 percent of all ballots from Afghanistan's recent historic elections now counted, the level of reported irregularities seen to date remained low compared with other similar post-conflict elections, electoral chief of the Afghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) said in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Sunday.

"I don’t believe that these irregularities give any reason to doubt the overall integrity of the elections," Peter Erben, JEMB'S chief electoral officer, maintained.

His comments follow a statement by the European Union (EU) observer mission saying reports of fraud and possible intimidation of voters were "worrying”, adding, although not nationwide, they raised concerns nonetheless.

"We appreciate the statement of the European Union. It is necessary for the transparency of the electoral process," Sultan Ahmad Baheen, a JEMB spokesman, continued, noting they had predicted such irregularities earlier in some parts of the country, adding an investigation was under way.

"Undoubtedly a number of quarantined ballot boxes would be permanently excluded," Baheen explained.

The UN-Afghan electoral body says ballot boxes from about 4 percent of 26,000 polling stations were now being checked for irregularities ranging from ballot stuffing to proxy voting.

While conceding some cases of fraud, Erben emphasised that such incidents were localised rather than on an orchestrated, nationwide scale and consequently would not affect the overall integrity of the 18 September polls.

Vowing strong action against such incidents, Erben stressed that strong decisions would be taken in the coming days, with suspect ballot boxes being excluded in whole, or in part, while candidates linked to fraud could be warned, fined or disqualified.

"We are taking irregularities very seriously," he emphasised.

Although the JEMB aims to complete the vote count by Tuesday, Erben said the review of questionable ballots would have no specific deadline.

"A 'very high number' of polling stations in the southeastern province of Paktika, were also under scrutiny because of accusations of proxy voting," the JEMB official said, adding ballot boxes from 271 polling stations were quarantined in the province pending an investigation.

Meanwhile, ballot counting in six provinces: Logar, Faryab, Balkh, Farah, Ghor and Samangan, has been completed, according to the electoral officials.

Of the country's 12.5 million registered voters, some 6.8 million Afghans took part in the polls to elect a national legislature and 34 provincial councils for a five-year term.

Almost 5,800 candidates contested the poll, including over 2,700 for the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) and more than 3,000 for 420 seats in the provincial councils.

Following the announcement of provisional results, a five-day period will be given for the Electoral Complaints Commission to process complaints against the counting and voting process.

Final certified results for the polls are expected to be announced by the JEMB in the last week of October.