Abdullah Abdullah, one of two candidates in Afghanistan’s runoff vote, who last week severed ties with the nation’s election bodies has presented evidence of what he says is vote rigging by the Independent Election Commission.
The audio recordings, played at today's press conference in Kabul, are said to be of a conversation between Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, IEC Chief Electoral Officer, and a member of the campaign team of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the former foreign minister running against Abdullah in the June 14 election.
During the 12-minute telephone exchange, a voice said to be Amarkhail’s can be heard saying: “They [supporters of Ghani] are hired to stuff the sheep properly,” a phrase Abdullah’s team said is code for ballot stuffing.
Amarkhail, whose staff members were accused of arranging for ballot stuffing after they were found moving carloads of unused ballots from the IEC’s headquarters in Kabul on election day, has become Abdullah’s prime target in his allegations of fraud.
Amarkhail denies the charges lodged against him by the Kabul police chief, General Zahir Zahir. At a press conference following the June 14 polls, the Ministry of Interior chalked the allegations up to a misunderstanding.
When contacted by VICE News, Amarkhail’s office said the IEC would be holding a press conference on Monday morning that would address any concerns.
Abdullah’s team did not immediately response to a request for comment.
The Independent Election Commission has also denied charges of corruption and has said that the Electoral Complaints Commission is welcome to investigate their conduct.
But supporters of Abdullah — the former foreign minister who backed out of a 2009 runoff with Hamid Karzai due to similar fraud allegations — remain adamant that Amarkhail must be held accountable for what they say was the illegal transport of ballots to Surobi district of Kabul province.
The Pashto-language audio recordings were presented a day after hundreds of protesters took to the streets of several Kabul neighborhoods to demand that Amarkhail be tried for his crime.
At the protests — held near Kabul International Airport and the neighborhoods of Deh Mazang, Khair Khaneh and Dasht-e Barchi — crowds of 200 to 400 young men could be heard chanting “Death to fraud!” and “Death to the election commissions!”
Protesters speaking to VICE News all singled out the Amarkhail case as proof of a government-assisted fraud.
At a late morning protest in the West Kabul neighborhood of Deh Mazang, a crowd of young men were heard yelling “punch holes in his eyes!” in reference to a poster of Amarkhail with a red slash over his face they had hung earlier.
Jamal, 32, said he and the 400 others gathered in Deh Mazang came to “defend the rights of the people. Those who lost fingers, those who lost their lives.”
But Jamal, originally from the eastern province of Ghazni, said the most “specific” example of fraud remains Amarkhail.
“He has to be questioned as to why he took the cars, and where they were headed,” Jamal said.
Jamal was among one of several protesters who said they came out to protest fraud, not in support of a single candidate.
“The winner isn’t important, what is, is that those who are corrupt are brought to account,” he said.
Abdul Karim, 21, agreed with Jamal, saying: “If fraudulent votes are separated from the clean ones, whoever becomes president is not important.”
Though the protests were relatively small, election watchers and voters feared that such actions could stoke ethnic conflicts in an election where Ghani, a Pashtun, is running against Abdullah, of mixed Pashtun-Tajik ethnicity.
Rhetoric like that espoused by Walid Ahmad Faiz, a 19-year-old Abdullah campaign worker who was giving fiery speeches at a tent in Deh Mazang, was perhaps the most worrying for those who fear ethnic conflict.
“Amarkhil who is Pashtun committed fraud,” Faiz told VICE News.
He went to name various prominent Pashtun tribes as being complicit in vote tampering.
“The Zazais, the Barakzais, the Totakhils, Jabarkhils and Stanekzais, these are the ones who committed fraud.”
However, when others gathered in the tent said they were not representing one ethnicity and that Mohammad Khan, Abdullah’s first vice presidential pick, was a Pashtun, Faiz clarified his statement to say he is against “those Pashtuns who committed fraud.”
Like other protesters, Faiz denied any possibility of fraud committed by Abdullah.
“If Dr. Abdullah committed fraud, why didn’t he keep quiet,” Faiz said in reference to claims the first round front-runner made of government-aided fraud since the end of the runoff vote.
In response to Abdullah’s withdrawal from the electoral process, Hamid Karzai, the incumbent, has said he would in agreement of his former foreign minister’s calls for United Nations involvement in vote counting.
Karzai has also offered up his two vice presidents — Yunus Qanuni and Karim Khalili — to resolve the mounting electoral tensions.