The Washington Post says that in southern Helmand province, an estimated 38,000 people voted, compared to the recorded vote of more than 134,000. The leaked data is no surprise to Peter Galbraith, who was fired by the UN after public disagreements with the UN Chief envoy to Afghanistan, over what he says was massive electoral fraud in the August polls.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Peter Galbraith, the former UN deputy envoy to Afghanistan
GALBRAITH: The UN did extensive data collection on incidents of fraud and on turn-out, our information on turn-out while not a hundred per cent accurate, which was impossible given the level of fraud and given the security conditions, clearly shows that the turn-out in the southern part of Afghanistan was very low and that the recorded votes were orders of magnitude more than what the turn-out possibly could have been even at the higher end of the scale.
LAM: Well the Washington Post also reported that your former boss, the UN Chief Envoy in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, had refused to release a secret spreadsheet of the data that was available. What do you know about that?
GALBRAITH: I know that for a fact because he told me that we were not to provide any of the information we gathered on turn-out or fraud, including that spreadsheet to the Afghan institutions that were responsible for the election, the Independent Election Commission, or to the UN-backed body that was investigating the fraud, the Election Complaints Commission. Incidentally this is not a controversial point, Kai Eide himself has admitted that he told the UN staff not to turn that material over.
LAM: Did he give any reason why?
GALBRAITH: He was uncomfortable with the idea of the UN becoming so involved in the election process, although we had a mandate to support free, fair and transparent elections. He said that that the data was not, it wasn't 100 per cent, you couldn't rely on it 100 per cent, which of course is true, it isn't as if we were monitoring an election in Australia. But again it provided very good evidence of the scale of fraud, and anyhow it wasn't for us to prove anything, we weren't trying to make a judgement on the election, we were simply trying to provide information that could be useful to the Election Complaints Commission.
LAM: Well there is a perception among some quarters in Afghanistan, including the chief rival to the incumbent, Abdullah Abdullah, the former Finance Minister, that the UN in Afghanistan was biased towards President Hamid Karzai. What's your view on this?
GALBRAITH: The UN in Afghanistan was strictly neutral and did a lot of work to support the integrity of the election process. The head of the UN mission, Kai Eide, was in my view very much biased towards President Karzai, and in fact he told President Karzai he was biased toward him and I later questioned him about that, and he admitted saying those words. There was a private disagreement between Kai Eide and myself that ran for many months about whether the United Nations should handle the fraud in Afghanistan. Unfortunately it became public and the secretary-general chose to remove me. There was no UN investigation of any of these points in contention, although I wrote a letter outlining them, and I think the decision was made in the traditional UN manner, which is if there's a disagreement between the number one and the number two, remove the number two.
LAM: How do you think Kai Eide might have acted differently to ensure that the polls were free and fair?
GALBRAITH: Well the first and most important point would have been before the elections. It became apparent to me in July that there were about 1,500 polling stations which were located in areas either controlled by the Taliban or that were so insecure that nobody from the Election Commission, from the Afghan army or the Afghan police had ever gone to the location. So it was obvious that these polling stations were not going to open, but the fact that they remained on the books created an opportunity for fraud. And in fact that's exactly what happened, there were hundreds of thousands of votes recorded from polling stations that never actually existed, these were what I called the 'ghost' polling centres. Kai was away as he often was, I took steps to try and persuade the Afghan authorities to remove these from the books, I was actually making some progress, Kai came back and ordered me not to proceed with this.
LAM: And finally Peter Galbraith the Electoral Complaints Commission is auditing the results as we speak. How confident are you that they will find some kind of resolution that will be amicable and acceptable to the people of Afghanistan?
GALBRAITH: It's going to be very difficult because while I have great confidence in the Election Complaints Commission, it has three members appointed by the United Nations; once fraud has taken place the Election Complaints Commission has the burden of uncovering the fraud and then removing the fraudulent ballots. So if it's anything less than 100 per cent successful, there will be a significant number of fraudulent ballots in the final tally, and that in turn will undermine the confidence of the Afghan people in the result.
LAM: Well much of Afghanistan's future was invested in the August elections, so the immediate future looks a little bit bleak?
GALBRAITH: There is no doubt that this has been a huge setback to the people of Afghanistan and to the international coalition that's supporting them. I've described these flawed elections as the greatest strategic triumph for the Taliban in eight years of war. It has undermined international support for the coalition, it threatens to divide the country, and in part on ethnic lines and President Karzai's chief challenger is from the Tajiks, the second largest group in Afghanistan. It is really a disaster, and it was in part a preventable disaster. Steps could have been taken to eliminate the ghost polling stations. The United Nations could have been vigorous with the Independent Election Commission, which was not an independent body but a partisan body favouring President Karzai who appointed all its members. But the head of the UN mission chose to not to recognise the danger of fraud and when it took place he initially denied that it had taken place and since then has consistently downplayed it. Even as recently his report to the Security Council on September 29th he said that there had been irregularities and fraud that had been committed by all sides. While that statement of course is technically true, it ignores the fact that there was massive fraud and that almost all of it was committed on behalf of the incumbent President Karzai.