Tories question Afghan election result

By Ian Dunt

The Conservatives have cast doubt on the Afghan election result, adding to the chorus of disapproval over the poll.

In an announcement today, shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: “It is very important for the success of what our troops are doing in Afghanistan that the Afghan people accept the legitimacy of the government.

“It is vital that the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) completes its work and that President Karzai does not declare victory before that work is done, even if it means delaying the provisional result of the election”.

Mr Hague added that if the United Nations-backed ECC required some elections to be re-run then “that should happen”, and said that a full second round of the election shouldn’t be ruled out “if that proves necessary”.

Events in the country nearly descended into farce yesterday when the ECC ordered a recount of the ballot while the Independent Election Commission (IEC) gave Mr Karzai the victory.

Some commentators have suggested their discussion signals the breakdown of consensus on Afghanistan, as the Tories appear to have joined the Liberal Democrats in criticising the recent elections and Britain’s strategy in the country.

The government continues to insist the Afghan elections are legitimate. Ambassador Mark Sedwill told the Today programme this morning: “We always knew there would be fraud in this election, a lot of irregularities. That was inevitable.”

The Tory position became somewhat clearer this morning when a video of David Cameron and Mr Hague doubting the validity of the Afghan elections emerged.

The video, which was filmed by a BBC team when the pair thought they were off-camera, has missing sections and some parts are indecipherable.

But it clearly showed both men questioning the Afghan poll.

Mr Cameron cited “the number of votes and the number who turned up couldn’t possibly be right”.

Mr Hague compared it with the 1979 Nigerian election, when Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was elected in a vote marred by violence, allegations of vote rigging and legal battles over the result.

The men then concluded that they will “make the case” and Mr Hague says: “We’ll do this in the next 24 hours or so.”

The comments revealed that the thinking inside the Tory party is as concerned about events in Afghanistan as experts and analysts trying to make sense of the election, which is already showing incumbent Hamid Karzai with a sufficient margin of victory to retain the presidency.

The Lib Dems cast doubt on quite how leaked the conversation between the two men was however, with foreign affairs spokesman saying the video looked “less like the West Wing and more like The Office”.

He added: “Given that one of the major criticisms of David Cameron is the suggestion that he’s a fake, pushing foreign policy positions through staged leaks does not do this serious issue justice.”

The Lib Dems are also calling for a second round in the election.