Indications of vote fraud during Afghanistan’s presidential election Monday threatened to ignite a political crisis and endanger the first democratic transition in the nation’s history. The nation’s election commission had said that more than seven million people voted in Saturday’s runoff—well above the 6.6 million who took part in the election’s first round in April—but that figure has come under scrutiny. Candidate Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, called the turnout claim “uncorroborated,” and on Monday members of Mr. Abdullah’s campaign team said that between one million and two million ballots were fraudulent, stuffed for his rival, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani. Naeem Ayubzada, head of the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan, an independent group that dispatched some 8,000 observers Saturday, also disputed the official figure. He estimated 5 million voters as a more realistic turnout number.
The election commission’s chairman, Yusuf Nuristani, said that any allegations of fraud should be forwarded to the separate Independent Electoral Complaints Commission watchdog.
The controversy looked set to replay, if not exceed in gravity, the contest over the fraud-ridden election in 2009, when an election watchdog disqualified more than a million ballots cast for incumbent President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Karzai isn’t allowed to participate in this year’s race.
If allegations of ballot-stuffing bear out, “it would demonstrate that no lessons have been learned from 2009, and that some of the hopefulness that accompanied the election’s first round was wishful thinking,” said Candace Rondeaux, an Afghanistan expert at Fordham Law School. “If the stakes are high enough, people are willing to gamble anything to make sure their candidate wins.”