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Undelivered Ballots Delay Afghan Election Results

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We should be getting preliminary results of the presidential election in Afghanistan sometime this week, possibly as early as tomorrow. Millions of ballots are still making their way to the capital, Kabul. In the meantime, allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing are growing. NPR's Jackie Northam is in Afghanistan, and she's been covering the elections, joins us now from Kabul. Good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Have election officials given any sense of how many ballots have actually gotten to Kabul, and actually why it's taking so long to get the rest there?

NORTHAM: Well, they say that more than 60 percent of the ballots have made it to the main election center here in Kabul, but the rest are just coming in very slowly, whether they're coming in by horseback or donkey or helicopter. And as you know, some of these roads are extremely dangerous, and there have already been a couple of attacks on the convoys. Three election workers have also been killed.

But the commission says it's taking a lot longer than they thought to actually process the ballots once they reach the capital. We'll see. It's looking increasingly unlikely, though, that the final results will hit their target date of mid-September because there are so many complaints of fraud and ballot stuffing, and each of those complaints has to be investigated before the final results are certified.

MONTAGNE: It seems that a lot of these claims are coming from one of the main candidates, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. He's been saying that there was widespread vote rigging by the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai. How credible are those allegations? Certainly, we're hearing about stuffed ballot boxes. It's just hard to tell so far who might be doing that.

NORTHAM: Right. Well, Dr. Abdullah has logged more than 100 complaints of fraud against President Karzai, but really hasn't provided any evidence to back up those complaints. There are more credible allegations coming in from the field about intimidation or interference or vote rigging. The election's complaints commission said yesterday that so far there have been about 225 complaints, and there have been no specific charges against Karzai amongst them.

MONTAGNE: Now that violence that kept people away from the polling stations, it has meant a low turnout in some parts of the country. Have you a sense yet of how low that voter turnout was?

NORTHAM: Right. A lot of the, you know, the sense of the low voter turnout was anecdotal - people, you know, reporting in from the field and that type of thing. In the beginning, you know, some of these election commission officials said, you know, they thought that there was a 40 to 50 percent turnout. So it's been very confused, the actual number. But I spoke with the head of the commission yesterday, and he chastised anybody saying that they knew or had a sense of what the turnout is because that - nobody will know until those ballots are processed.

He described that figure of 50 percent as optimistic. And when I pushed him about whether he'd talked to election officials throughout the country, they told him yes, voter turnout was very low in many places, and particularly in the south and the east of the country. So we'll see if the ballot boxes from those areas reflect that once they arrive back here in Kabul.

MONTAGNE: Jackie, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking to NPR's Jackie Northam, who's in Kabul.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jackie Northam
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.
Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.