- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | The top U.N. official in Afghanistan acknowledged Sunday that there was “widespread fraud” in the August presidential election, responding to allegations by a former deputy that he had tried to downplay charges of ballot-box stuffing by supporters of the incumbent.

Kai Eide refused to give specifics or lay blame to avoid influencing the ongoing recount.

Peter Galbraith, the top-ranking American in the U.N. mission, was fired Sept. 30 by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after the widely publicized dispute over how to deal with the fraud said to have been committed on behalf of President Hamid Karzai. The tainted vote threatens to discredit the Afghan government and the international strategy for combating the Taliban insurgency.

During a news conference, Mr. Eide said he could “only say that there was widespread fraud” and that “any specific figure at this time would be pure speculation” until the recount is complete. Mr. Eide said Mr. Galbraith’s allegations against him “have affected the entire election process.”

Mr. Eide was flanked by ambassadors from the United States, Britain and France in a silent show of international support for the U.N. mission and its embattled leader.

In a separate news conference, an impatient Mr. Karzai called for the results to be announced as soon as possible.

“Day by day, Afghanistan faces more security problems, there is a decrease in the national income, there is an increase in insecurity across the country, there is a negative impact on daily business,” Mr. Karzai said. “I wish the election results could be announced sooner.”

Mr. Karzai said the “confusion” over the results had been “created by Western elements in our country.” He did not elaborate.

Last week, Mr. Galbraith said he was sticking by his allegations. He accused the United Nations of failing to exercise its responsibility to oversee the Afghan elections, adding that “the flaw that took place in Afghanistan was preventable.”

Mr. Eide addressed Mr. Galbraith’s allegations in detail for the first time Sunday. He said he decided to try to open a number of polling stations that Mr. Galbraith wanted closed because of security concerns. The American said keeping them open risked fraud.

But Mr. Eide argued that shuttering them would deny a large number of people the opportunity to vote and create “an important element of potential instability in the country.” Many stations in insecure areas in the south returned results that have been deemed suspect.

Mr. Eide also addressed a charge that he tried to cover up fraud by telling U.N. staffers not to pass on information they had about ballot-box stuffing or low to nonexistent turnout in some areas. Mr. Eide said that the United Nations gave election officials and fraud investigators all the information that it deemed credible, but did hold back information that came from phone calls from second- or thirdhand sources, many of whom changed their accounts repeatedly.

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