by RAY FLEMING
AS Hillary Clinton rather embarrassingly let drop during her recent visit to Nigeria, it takes a long time for political processes to evolve and gave as an example the problems that the United States had in 2000 when the outcome of the presidential election depended on some missing votes in the State whose governor was brother of one of the candidates. America, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Iran -- why should any one expect voting in Afghanistan to be “free and fair”? The accusations of fraud and intimidation heard since last week are par for the course. The Independent Election Commission had observers at many, but by no means all, polling stations in Afghanistan and is due to publish some preliminary results tomorrow. A separate body, the Electoral Complaints Commission has to investigate the most serious allegations of fraud -- it has received more than 400 of which it considers almost 50 need careful examination before the final result can be announced officially. It is unlikely, therefore, that the planned time scale for the announcement in mid-September will be kept. Abdullah Abdullah, Hamid Karsai's principal opponent for the presidency, has filed 100 complaints but has held his supporters back from staging protest demonstrations. That is a good sign and opens the possibility that Abdullah might have an important role to play even if he is not elected as president.

Afghanistan needs a strong local opposition voice with votes behind him as much as it needs a president.

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