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Stories Of Voter Intimidation Mount In Afghanistan

GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Each of the two major candidates in Afghanistan's presidential elections said today that he got the most votes. If neither man gets the majority, there will be a run-off likely between incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his leading rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Preliminary results have been promised by Tuesday, but the official tally won't be finalized until next month. The European Union and the U.S. are hailing the elections as a success, but several monitoring groups say the vote has been marred by intimidation and violence by the Taliban, and widespread fraud.

Jean MacKenzie is in the country's capital, Kabul. She is a correspondent for GlobalPost.com and the Afghanistan director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. She says there's not much doubt on the streets of the city about how the count will end up.

Ms. JEAN MACKENZIE (Reporter, GlobalPost.com): It is very much a done deal. I don't think there is much doubt that Hamid Karzai will end up president for another five years. The only questions we have now is whether he will have to go into a run-off against the second highest vote-getter, which is, as you've said, is likely to be Dr. Abdullah.

RAZ: Jean, we're hearing from some officials in Afghanistan, western officials, that this election has gone off better than expected, not much violence, high voter turnout, a free and fair process. Is that what you've been seeing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MACKENZIE: No, it's very far from the perception of people who have been intimately involved in the process, I would say. I think the threshold of success for this election has been getting lower and lower. At the beginning, we were talking about a free and fair election, then a credible election, and then the vague term successful election.

I don't know what they mean by success. There was widespread violence on Thursday. We don't know how many people were killed, there were at least 30. But since there was a news blackout on reporting of violence on election day, we may never know how many incidents of violence there were and how many...

RAZ: This is the news blackout that Afghan reporters were not allowed to report on violence. Is that what you were referring to?

Ms. MACKENZIE: Yes. Well, the direction from the Afghan government was that international and Afghan media were not allowed to report on violence. That was widely ignored. But we really do not have full figures on what happened on election day.

RAZ: What about fraud? What about allegations of fraud?

Ms. MACKENZIE: Again, we may never really know. Afghanistan is a country without a valid census, where they've only recently started distributing birth certificates. So, we do not know how many actual voters are out there. So it's going to be very difficult to measure the turnout.

What we do know is that turnout was extremely light, every place that we were able to observe. And many, many places in the country were so insecure that there were no observers. Nevertheless, we're hearing very unbelievable reports of voter turnout says 50 percent or more in places where there was very likely a turnout of 10 percent or less. That would mean that we've got massive fraud as far as the vote count goes.

RAZ: How would that work? I mean, these votes are being bundled up and handed in or in a different way?

Ms. MACKENZIE: Yes. Very much, they're being bundled up and handed in. We have had reports from various parts of the country in the west, the south and the southeast that tribal leaders have been taking people's voter registrations cards for the past few months, telling them that this will qualify them for some form of assistance, wheat or cooking oil.

They've been making copies of those voter registration cards. And all you need in order to vote is the number of a voter registration card. You don't need to sign anything. You don't need to leave a thumbprint. You just need a number. So chances are the tribal leaders were able to cast ballots for just about everyone who was registered.

RAZ: Jean, when you've been able to observe people voting in some of these voting stations, do they seem excited? I mean, the people you've been talking to, are they optimistic about what's taking place?

Ms. MACKENZIE: The people who are at the voting station are in the minority. And they are the people who cared enough or were brave enough to come out. But even those people, the people we talked to seemed to think that this was an election whose results were predetermined that it was an election that had been forecast and foreordained, if you will, by the international community.

And their vote was more a gesture of defiance, if you will, or a gesture of, we are going to take control of our country, than it was a gesture of hope.

RAZ: Jean MacKenzie is a correspondent for GlobalPost.com and the Afghanistan director for the Institute for War and peace Reporting. She joined us on the line from Kabul.

Jean, thanks so much.

Ms. MACKENZIE: Thank you, Guy. 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.

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