- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | Afghan officials issued full preliminary results Wednesday showing President Hamid Karzai got 54.6 percent of the vote in last month’s election, a result that could be annulled by mounting fraud allegations.

EU election monitors say fraud was evident in more than a quarter of the 5.6 million votes counted.

The Aug. 20 vote has been so tainted by reports of ballot-box stuffing and questionable tallies that many expect the final results to vary widely from the preliminary count after fraudulent ballots are thrown out.

If enough votes are thrown out for Mr. Karzai to drop below 50 percent, it will force him into a two-man runoff with top challenger Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who has 27.7 percent of the vote. The preliminary count gave Mr. Karzai 3.1 million votes to Mr. Abdullah’s 1.6 million.

Recounts and investigations are likely to take weeks, pushing the date for any runoff well past the original plan for the first week of October. Snow starts blocking villages and roads in the mountainous country in November, so a long delay could make a second round logistically unfeasible until the spring.

The wait for a runoff could leave Afghanistan with a power vacuum at a time when Taliban attacks are increasing and undermining support abroad for a war backing an apparently corrupt administration. Certified results originally were to have been released this week, with any runoff occurring two weeks later.

A spokesman said Mr. Abdullah would not comment on the release of the full results but would speak with reporters Thursday.

Waheed Omar, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai’s campaign, said the president is “clearly leading in the elections, and we have bypassed the 50 percent benchmark that is required for someone to win the first round. We hope that when the certified results are announced, we will win the election in the first round.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly stressed that the results were just preliminary.

“They’re not final, and we’re still waiting for the certified results,” he said. “The certified results will only come after the independent electoral commission and the electoral complaints commission [have] carried out their investigations thoroughly, and done all the required audits and recounts.

“We welcome this next step in the process, but caution patience to everybody to await the final certified results,” he said.

A U.N.-backed complaints commission is examining thousands of potentially fraudulent ballots. The commission, which is the final arbiter of the vote results, has ordered a massive audit and recount of about 10 percent of voting stations. The group has already invalidated ballots from 83 polling stations because of fraud allegations, all in areas with high support for Mr. Karzai.

EU observers said about 1.5 million of the 5.6 million ballots counted should have been held out because they have indications of fraud according to guidelines set by election officials ahead of the vote - turnout at or above 100 percent, or more than 90 percent of votes cast for one candidate.

The deputy head of the U.N. mission here said the Independent Election Commission had voted 6-1 for a formula to root out corrupt ballots, only to reverse itself the next day, stating it had no legal way to enforce those standards. The official, Peter Galbraith, left Afghanistan over the weekend after a dispute with his boss, Kai Eide, over the United Nations’ approach to the fraud allegations.

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