September 9, 2010 / 12:42 PM / 8 years ago

Graft hard to spot in Afghan poll: monitor group

KABUL (Reuters) - Despite some electoral reforms, detecting graft in Afghanistan’s September 18 parliamentary election will be harder than in last year’s presidential poll due to the current voting system, a Western observer group said on Thursday.

A man rides a bicycle past a banner for parliamentary candidate Nima Suratgar (L) in Kabul September 8, 2010. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Relatively peaceful areas could also see a spike in violence and voter intimidation on polling day as smaller powerbrokers vied for one of 249 parliamentary seats for themselves or their cronies, said U.S.-based Democracy International (DI).

The election is being seen not only as a test of stability in Afghanistan — where violence is at its worst in nine years — but also as a credibility test for Afghan President Hamid Karzai after a fraud-marred presidential poll last year.

Each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces will act as a separate constituency, as opposed to the presidential election where the entire country chose from the same list of candidates, making it harder to spot fraud, said DI.

“It’s so different that these two elections cannot be compared,” said Alessandro Parziale, chief of party for DI, a for-profit organization promoting democracy and partly funded by the U.S. government development agency, USAID.

Parziale said it would be similar to having a small presidential election in every province and there would be large disparities in how provinces ran the vote. Due to the voting system, candidates could also win with a small number of votes.

“So to have an overall picture will be much more difficult, and again, if fraud happens, it will be difficult to see where, because in some small provinces maybe with the votes of six or seven polling stations you have a seat in parliament,” he said.

“THERE WILL BE FRAUD”

DI said it welcomed new safeguards introduced by Afghanistan’s election commission, including a better system for tracking ballot papers and limiting the number of ballots that can be sent to any polling station.

Despite these measures, however, fraud was unavoidable.

“There will be fraud in this election. There is no doubt about that. But this time they will have to be a bit more creative in how they do it,” said Jed Ober, DI’s chief of staff.

Nick Maroukis, DI’s security director, also warned there would be a greater risk of violence in normally peaceful areas because candidates were competing on a provincial level and local powerbrokers would tussle for influence.

“This is where the smaller powerbrokers can have a lot more influence. Watch the places on the map that are normally quiet. watch what will happen there,” said Mourakis.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst levels since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001, with record numbers of casualties on all sides of the conflict.

While not able to completely disrupt last year’s election, insurgent attacks and threats kept many voters away from the polling booths, opening the way for widespread fraud.

Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Paul Tait and Sugita Katyal

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