Inquiry floors Karzai's victory hopes

UN-backed fraud investigators today threw out nearly a third President Hamid Karzai's votes from the country's disputed August election. The findings set the stage for a runoff between him and his top challenger.

It was unclear, however, whether the Afghan-led Independent Election Commission would accept the findings of the fraud panel and announce a runoff. Karzai's spokesman said it was too soon to make a judgment based on the figures released by the panel.



That could mean a further delay in forming a new government that the U.S. believes is needed to help combat the growing Taliban insurgency. A protracted crisis could also lead to political unrest.



The White House has also said no decision on sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan would be made before the election crisis is resolved — a stance reiterated by the civilian chief of the NATO military alliance on Monday.



U.S. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was among a host of international envoys in Kabul at the weekend urging the president to accept the fraud rulings, returned Monday to resume meetings with Karzai, the U.S. Embassy said.



Two international officials familiar with the investigation by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission told The Associated Press that the findings showed Karzai falling below the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff with his chief rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.



An independent calculation by an election monitoring group, Democracy International, showed Karzai with 48.3 percent, or about 2.1 million votes, after more than 995,000 of his votes were thrown out for fraud.



Preliminary results released last month showed Karzai winning the Aug. 20 election with more than 54 percent. However, allegations of voter coercion and ballot box-stuffing prompted the fraud investigation and held up a final proclamation of a winner.



Abdullah campaign spokesman Fazel Sancharaki welcomed the fraud panel's findings and said they showed Karzai's percentage of the vote was 48 percent.



"This is a step forward, now it is up to the IEC to announce the final results," Sancharaki told The Associated Press. He said it would be illegal for the IEC to reject the fraud panel's findings.



Karzai campaign spokesman Waheed Omar said, "I don't think we can make any judgment based on the figures announced today."



Investigators only released raw data from their findings, but it was clear that hundreds of thousands of Karzai votes were voided. In all, more than 5 million votes were cast in the election. About 1.3 million of those ballots were invalidated in the investigation, according to the Democracy International tally.



Afghan law declares the U.N.-backed panel the final arbiter on fraud allegations. However, Karzai supporters on the election commission have argued that the partial recount is beyond the normal complaint process and that they must have a say in whether the findings are accepted.



Grant Kippen, the chairman of the Electoral Complaints Commission, said he did not see any legal way for the Independent Election Commission, or IEC, to reject the results.



"Our decisions, our orders, are final and binding according to the law," Kippen said. "We've followed the law very clearly, very precisely. My sense is that the IEC is going to follow the law as well."



He declined to talk about whether the data showed the need for a runoff, saying it was up the IEC to make that call.



Hundreds of Karzai supporters protested in the president's native southern province over the weekend, calling for the electoral commission to release results quickly and saying they will reject a second round.



They gathered in the main street of the southeastern city of Spin Boldak on Sunday, shouting, "We want the result!" and "Karzai is our leader!"



Ali Shah Khan, a tribal leader from the area, said the protesters believed the August vote was fair and that foreigners were delaying the results to unseat Karzai.



"We know they don't want President Karzai because he is a strong leader and he is working only for the people of Afghanistan," Khan said. "The foreign countries want a weak leader for Afghanistan. After that they can do whatever they want."



The White House says President Barack Obama will not send more U.S. troops until a credible government is in place.



"There is a need for rapid decisions (but) it's important to stress that there is a strong need for the international community to have a credible and accountable government in Kabul to deal with," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels.



French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Kerry were in Kabul at the weekend urging the Afghans to resolve the standoff quickly.



Sancharaki, the Abdullah spokesman, said the U.N.-backed panel "is under threat" from Karzai. He alleged the president was urging the election commission not to accept the results of the fraud probe.



"He's telling them not to accept the findings if they show less than 50 percent for him. That's why the IEC is not accepting the final report," he said. "There is no end to this misery. Negotiations are still going on, but there is no agreement."



Omar, Karzai's campaign spokesman, has denied any presidential interference.



Afghan officials have said they could organize a runoff in about two weeks time, which is close to the start of winter. When snows fall in the high mountain passes, it will become all but impossible to organize and conduct an election until the spring. A second round vote would also run the risk of Taliban attacks on voters such as those carried out during the first ballot.



For those reasons, Western diplomats have urged the two sides to reach a power-sharing agreement which would avoid a new vote and bring an end to the crisis. Both sides have expressed a willingness to talk but are said to be far apart.



Karzai has said he would be willing to offer posts to the opposition in a new government — which falls short of a real coalition with clearly defined powers.



As the debate rages, deadly fighting continues.



On Monday, Taliban militants set fire to 15 trucks carrying supplies to a military base in eastern Ghazni province, according to local official Sahib Khan. Afghan security guards killed two militants during the fighting.



Two Afghan security troopers were killed in a gun battle overnight with Taliban fighters near Ghazni city, provincial spokesman Ismail Jahangir said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious 5
film
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss