Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 13:42 UK

Afghan election fraud is unearthed

By Ian Pannell
BBC News, Kabul

Election officials in Afghanistan
Western officials say that the vote may be flawed (All pics courtesy of FEFA)

An investigation by the BBC has found evidence of fraud and corruption in Afghanistan's presidential election. Thousands of voting cards have been offered for sale and thousands of dollars have been offered in bribes to buy votes.

The Afghan Independent Election Commission that oversees the poll has also been accused of not doing enough to prevent abuses.

We were passed information that voting cards were being sold in the capital. An Afghan working for the BBC went undercover, posing as a potential buyer. He was offered 1,000 cards on the spot. Each one would cost about $10 (£6).

We were given some samples as proof of what was being offered. They are all authentic with the name, photo and home details of the voter on them.

Widespread abuses

The cards have been returned to the seller and no money changed hands. Others have also offered to sell us thousands of votes and some traders have even been arrested.

Afghan voter registration card
Voter registration cards are readily available on the black market

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), an independent monitoring group, has collected evidence of fraud, in particular during the registration process.

It found that in many places people were being issued with more than one voting card, that children were being given them and that stacks of cards were issued to men who falsely claimed they were for women in their household.

Government workers - supposed to be impartial - have actively and illegally campaigned for candidates.

Shahrzad Akbar, a senior analyst with FEFA, says that because they were only able to investigate a few parts of the country, the abuses could be even more widespread.

"We couldn't observe how it went in every single district or village. I am sure that there are cases of multiple card distribution that we don't know about.

"But those incidents that we do know about caused us enough concern to contact the Independent Election Commission and say, 'please prevent this!'"

Money offered

The Electoral Complaints Commission has been training its investigators in how to spot fraud on polling day. Like the Independent Election Commission, the body insists that any problems are isolated and manageable.

Afghan voter with a registration card
The authorities insist that any problems with the vote will be manageable

But there is evidence that some people working for candidates have deliberately tried to influence the outcome of the presidential election by offering bribes.

A tribal elder and former military commander in Baghlan province described how the system works.

As a key local leader he is able to persuade large numbers of people to vote for one candidate or another.

He says that he and other local leaders have been approached by teams from the two leading contenders in this election and offered money.

"If one candidate gives $10,000, then the other gives $20,000 and a third one offers even more. It has become such a lucrative and competitive business. I don't know where they get their money from."

Western officials concede the election will be flawed - that there has been corruption, that there is apathy and that the fighting will stop some from voting.

Mark Sedwill, the British ambassador to Afghanistan, insists that whatever the problems, it is still better than not having an election at all.

"If this was a western European country with a population at peace, then the kind of difficulties we're going to face wouldn't be acceptable," he said.

"But we're working up from zero. And this election will be better than the last one, it's run by the Afghans themselves and I suspect - and hope - that the parliamentary election next year will be better and that the next presidential election will be better again.

"So it's not a question of reaching some standard that's unobtainable - we have to remember the situation we're in."

Western officials believe that these abuses will not change the result precisely because they are being carried out in the name of so many candidates.

But as international forces fight and die to allow this election to go ahead, serious questions are raised about the credibility of the process and the balance between sacrifice and reward.

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