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Afghan Election Officials Consider Options to Address Fraud Before Runoff

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Officials in Afghanistan are working to organize the second round of nationwide presidential voting, scheduled in about two weeks.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the media the United Nations wants to replace more than half of the 380 district election heads in Afghanistan, in order to make the runoff on November 7th more credible.

But U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique tells VOA from Kabul that staffing is just one of the many things Afghan election officials have to consider in the coming weeks.

"They will be looking at whether or not staff needs to be replaced, whether or not security measures need to be increased or what other measures can be taken in terms of encouraging legitimate voter turnout," said Siddique.

Earlier this week, the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission reported widespread fraud in the first round invalidated a portion of the votes, including a third of incumbent President Hamid Karzai's ballots. This reversed Mr. Karzai's outright victory and forced a runoff with his top challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

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Mr. Abdullah told reporters he thanked Mr. Karzai for endorsing the next round of voting. But he also said he had reservations about whether Afghan election officials were up to the challenge of ensuring a fair vote.

"We have certain suggestions, recommendations and conditions, which we will come up with quite soon," he said.

Mr. Abdullah refused to elaborate on his demands. But he said he wanted Afghans to come out and vote in greater numbers this time with the knowledge their voices would be heard.

Siddique says election officials have prepared for weeks in the event of a runoff. He said plans include closing polling stations that had either low voter turnout or significant fraud in the first round.

"We will not be disfranchising any voters if we close those polling centers," said Siddique. The people who wish to cast a legitimate vote will be encouraged to go to other polling stations within the same district."

Election officials also are working to overcome logistical difficulties before Afghanistan's harsh winter weather seals off remote areas.