Afghan officials released the first partial results from last week's parliamentary elections on Thursday amid mounting allegations of fraud in a poll seen as a test of the Afghan government's commitment to rooting out corruption.
Saturday's vote was the first since a presidential election last year that was nearly derailed by widespread ballot-box stuffing and tally manipulation.
This year's elections have about 2,500 candidates vying for 249 parliamentary seats. Tallies have been dribbling into a central tabulation centre in the capital since Saturday and officials said Thursday that they had finished with about 67 per cent of the ballots from one province — relatively peaceful Panjshir.
There are two seats allocated to Panjshir — one for a man and one for a woman — and the results released Thursday give large leads to Zahir Sadat and Rahilah Salim. Salim — a judge — is an incumbent and Sadat is a new candidate this year.
Full preliminary results are expected in early October, but final tallies won't be announced until the end of October at the earliest, because of the time needed to investigate fraud charges.
With so many candidates running, there is a large pool of people likely to file complaints.
Election day was marred by rocket attacks and bombings at polling stations in volatile areas. At least 21 civilians and nine police officers were killed during the voting, according to the election commission and the Interior Ministry.
Observers complained that many anti-fraud measures did not work. Some people were able to wash off supposedly indelible ink used to mark fingers and therefore prevent multiple voting, while in some areas poll workers let people use fake registration cards and allowed children to vote, according to the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, the main independent Afghan observer group.
Election commission chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi said election officials have been quarantining — or removing from the count — any suspicious ballot tallies, but declined to say how many ballots have been held out so far.
"Some things happened, but in the balance it does not appear significant," Manawi said. He noted that fraud will only be a problem if it is ignored and said that charges are being looked into.
"We accept that some things did happen, but we also assure the people of Afghanistan that we are investigating," he told reporters.
The country's anti-fraud watchdog said Tuesday it had received 1,496 complaints. The highest number were in the volatile eastern provinces of Khost and Nangarhar. Both of those areas were plagued by rocket attacks and Taliban intimidation on election day.
Observers noted nearly empty polling stations in insecure areas. Some of the safer voting sites in large cities were so clogged with voters that they ran out of ballots.
About 4.3 million ballots were cast in Saturday's vote, or 25 per cent of the country's 17 million registered voters. Nearly six million ballots were cast in last year's presidential vote, though many of those were thrown out as fraudulent.
Afghan officials originally planned enough polling sites to accommodate 12 million voters, but then cut those back multiple times because of security concerns, saying just before the poll they could accommodate 11.4 million voters.
Taliban attacks then kept even more voting sites closed on election day, according to the commission.
Helicopter crash victims were Americans
Meanwhile, the Pentagon confirmed that all nine troops killed in Tuesday's crash, the worst helicopter disaster for a NATO country in Afghanistan in four years, were Americans.
The Pentagon did not provide any further information on why the aircraft went down in a rugged area in the Daychopan district of Zabul province.
NATO said there were no reports of enemy fire in the area, but Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told The Associated Press by telephone that insurgents shot down the helicopter.
The Taliban often exaggerate their claims and sometimes take credit for accidents.
The U.S. Defence Department released the identities of the troops late Wednesday, saying four were with the navy special forces — three of them Navy SEALS — and the rest were soldiers.
Tuesday's crash was the deadliest since May 2006, when a Chinook helicopter went down while attempting a nighttime landing on a small mountaintop in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 U.S. troops.