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Afghan Candidates Reject Vote After Mix-up Over Voter Identification - 2004-10-10

History is being made in Afghanistan, as the country takes part in its first-ever presidential election. But while most Afghans are enthusiastic, the candidates challenging interim President Hamid Karzai claim that a procedural mix-up has invalidated the vote. Men in turbans and shalwar robes dance and bang drums on the streets of Kabul to celebrate the election and the new chapter in Afghan history it represents.

Authorities say the lack of violence in the early hours of election day, despite threats from some groups opposed to the election, is a very good sign.

But the 15 candidates facing interim President Hamid Karzai say an error by poll workers, and not armed insurgents, has invalidated the vote.

Election organizers had planned to mark the left thumb of each voter with indelible ink, in addition to punching his or her voter registration card, to prevent anyone from voting twice.

This was considered important to the process, as reports over the past months have suggested some people may have received more than one voter card.

But due to a mix-up in the ink pens, some voters had their thumbs marked with ordinary, easily-removed ink, opening the possibility of fraud.

Abdul Satar Serat, speaking on behalf of himself and 14 other candidates, says the voting has been invalidated by the mix-up.

"To avoid the destruction of the security in Afghanistan, we unanimously decided that today's election is not a legitimate election, and it should be stopped immediately," he said.

Mr. Serat also claimed there had been intimidation of voters by supporters of President Karzai, and other types of election fraud.

Farooq Wardak, head of the official election body, convened a meeting several hours after the voting began, but decided to continue with the election.

"The problem we have heard so far is not so huge, which should cause us, or, which should force us, to close the election," said Farooq Wardak.

He says initial reports suggest the ink problem was limited to a few polling stations, and was quickly corrected.

"From the many provinces, which I [have] called, I get all the good news that the election is going very smoothly, and the ink problem is not there," he said.

Mr. Wardak says the election body will meet again after the polls close to decide whether the problem was widespread enough to require a new election.