David Cameron appears to cast doubt on Afghan poll

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Indy Politics

David Cameron has apparently cast doubt on the Afghanistan elections, blaming "naked" irregularities in the poll.

In private remarks picked up by a BBC camera crew, the Tory leader was heard to say that disparities between the number of votes cast and the number of people who voted "could not be right".

The comments, made to shadow foreign secretary William Hague yesterday, are likely to be interpreted as opening a further gulf between himself and Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the elections.

Mr Cameron was recorded as saying: "The things that seem to have happened are so naked, you know, you just saw the number of votes and the number of people who actually turned up at polling stations. It just could not possibly be right."

He was talking to Mr Hague at the Imagination Centre in central London before he gave his speech on cutting pay and perks at Westminster.

Mr Hague said: "I remember the 1979 election in Nigeria and this is the same sort of thing."

Mr Cameron replied: "We should be very clear about that."

The candid remarks will be seen as revealing the current thinking at the top of the Conservative Party on the elections in Afghanistan, which have been widely criticised.

The UN-backed watchdog investigating the poll has said it has found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" and ordered a recount at some polling stations.

Today Mr Hague said a second round of the election should not be ruled out if the Electoral Complaints Commission required it.

He said: "We are very concerned about the widespread reports of irregularities and fraud in the elections in Afghanistan.

"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 completes its work and that President (Hamid) Karzai does not declare victory before that work is done, even if it means delaying the provisional result of the election.

"If the Electoral Complaints Commission requires some elections to be re-run, that should happen. Nor should a full second round of the election be ruled out if that proves necessary."

Downing Street acknowledged people were "anxious" to know the result of the elections but said it was important to let the counting process run its course with only preliminary results announced so far.

Describing reports of fraud as "no surprise", the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "We always knew there would be potential difficulties with these elections and that fraud was a possibility.

"I think the most important thing here is that we have two bodies, both the Electoral Complaints Commission and the IEC (Independent Election Commission), who we have complete confidence will be able to take the process forward from here."

Urging a need to take things "step-by-step", the spokesman added: "It's really important in Afghanistan that people remain calm and see this process through, and I think with the combination of the two bodies that I've talked about and with our international partners we are just urging the Afghan election authorities to continue to keep this rigorous approach to tackling electoral fraud."