From The Economist print edition
UNITED NATIONS officials must rue the day they tried to force Peter Galbraith, number two at the UN mission in Kabul, to go quietly. Mr Galbraith, a former American diplomat, has been anything but quiet since the UN tried to gloss over the manner of his exit: he was sacked after a big row with his boss, Kai Eide, about how to deal with the massive fraud in August’s election.
Mr Galbraith has been complaining that not only did Mr Eide fail to stop the cheating in the first place, he also “denied significant fraud had taken place” at all. In an article in the Washington Post on October 4th, he blamed Mr Eide for not preventing “ghost polling-stations”, in areas too dangerous to be secured or monitored, from receiving voting papers and ballot boxes. This meant boxes could be stuffed by allies of Hamid Karzai, the president. And he accused Mr Eide of suppressing evidence collected by UN staff on polling day, showing a huge discrepancy between the trickle of people who voted and the large numbers of ballots recorded as cast. The UN says it needed to check the reports before releasing them.
Mr Galbraith claims that almost a third of the votes cast for Mr Karzai were fraudulent. The corollary is that, had the election been blemish-free, Mr Karzai would not have crossed the threshold of 50% of votes needed to win without a second round. The preliminary tally shows Mr Karzai with 55% and Abdullah Abdullah, his closest rival, on 28%. Dr Abdullah has seized on Mr Galbraith’s comments, saying Mr Eide had given a “green light to fraud”. Mr Eide has testily denied any bias in favour of Mr Karzai. But it is hard to see how a second round can now be avoided. If Mr Karzai wins without one, Dr Abdullah can cite Mr Galbraith’s arguments to bolster a claim that the election was stolen.
Mr Eide stresses “process”, arguing that the election can still be salvaged if the proper procedures are followed. These involve Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), under the orders of the foreign-controlled Election Complaints Commission (ECC). The IEC is examining 10% of some 3,500 ballot boxes deemed suspicious, either because of an unusually high turnout or because almost all the votes went to one candidate. A final result is due around October 15th, almost two months after polling.
But not everyone is hopeful that this audit can rescue the election. The IEC has been shown to be riddled with incompetent, corrupt officials. Even if there is a second round it is unclear how the commission would reform itself in time. So far only four low-ranking officials have been sacked by the organisation, which is full of Mr Karzai’s appointees. And the ECC says it has no mandate to make recommendations that could improve a second round.
Ashraf Ghani, the fourth-placed candidate argues that “process is the last refuge of the bureaucrat”. He is one of a small but growing group who believe the election is so tainted it should be abandoned altogether. Other options include a grand assembly or loya jirga to pick a new president. Francesc Vendrell, a former special representative in Afghanistan for both the UN and the EU, argues that for the foreign powers to accept this election would be an “enormous error”. He would like to see an interim government and fresh elections under a new IEC next year. If that happened, Mr Galbraith would have helped to bring down a process he only wanted conducted more rigorously.