Afghan Winners Announced Amid Vote Fraud

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A 27-year-old women's rights worker who dared to denounce powerful warlords is among the first winners in the election for Afghanistan's National Assembly (search), according to unofficial results announced Thursday.

The joint U.N.-Afghan election body declared provisional winners from national and provincial assembly seats in two of the country's 34 provinces and said most of the other results from the Sept. 18 poll would be released in the coming week. Final, certified results are expected later this month.

Officials also said they were excluding 299 polling stations — about 1 percent of stations nationwide — from the vote count because of fraud, including stuffing ballot boxes after polling day. Peter Erben (search), the chief electoral officer, said there was no clear evidence implicating any candidates.

He said there was "no sign of systemic or countrywide fraud," and he was confident the country's first parliamentary election in more than 30 years would "reflect the will of the voters of Afghanistan."

But he acknowledged "serious cases" of fraud in some areas, and that "further steps are needed in coming years to address the problems encountered in this election, especially reducing the level of localized fraud and intimidation."

Results were announced for the western provinces of Nimroz and Farah. Among the winners was Malalai Joya, a women's rights worker who rose to prominence for daring to denounce powerful warlords at a post-Taliban constitutional convention two years ago.

She finished second in Farah behind Mohammed Naeem Farahi, a 60-year-old former Interior Ministry official and representative of Afghan refugees in London during the Soviet occupation. The other winners in the province were a 40-year-old businessman, a high-school teacher and a respected local elder.

A quarter of the National Assembly seats are reserved for women.

Provisional results will be declared official only after an election complaints commission has adjudicated complaints and accusations of cheating, mostly expected to be filed by losing candidates.

The elections are seen as a key step in Afghanistan's transition to democracy after two decades of war and the ouster of the Taliban in a U.S.-led war in late 2001.

Currently, the top-ranking election candidates in most provinces are warlords or leaders of mujahedeen factions, many active in the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s and the ruinous 1992-96 civil war that followed.

Other likely winners include former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, former communists, a former Taliban commander, academics, doctors, journalists, Muslim clerics and an elder brother of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai.

Erben said the vote count essentially was complete, but the election body still needed to audit about 40 percent of the results and review outstanding fraud cases at more than 200 other polling stations.

Erben said a few election staff workers had been implicated in irregularities and fired, and "further action against them is being reviewed."