Karzai edges closer to victory but allegations of ballot fraud intensify

Hamid Karzai edged closer to the 50 per cent share of the votes he needs for outright victory in the Afghan presidential elections with the publication of the latest set of results yesterday. However, election officials also announced that they had thrown out votes from 447 polling sites because of suspected fraud. There has reportedly been significant friction within the country's Independent Election Commission about whether or not votes should be discounted.

According to some sources within the IEC, had the votes stood it would have led to a declarationof victory for President Karzai. But now, with 74 per cent of polling stations counted, the President is leading with 48.6 per cent of the vote while his main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, has 30.1 per cent. Out of 4.3 million valid votes, Mr Karzai has so far won 2.08 million and Mr Abdullah 1.36 million.

Allegations of ballot-stuffing have been made against all the candidates, although most have been levelled against supporters of Mr Karzai. So far investigators have received more than 2,000 complaints of malpractice, 620 of them deemed to be serious.

Election officials have fuelled the controversy by stating that counts from polling stations where 100 per cent of the votes had gone to Mr Karzai – as has happened in a number of places in the south and the east of the country – would be allowed to stand unless fraud had been conclusively proven.

Dr Abdullah, who has repeatedly complained about "state-engineered fraud" has accused the election officials of complicity in "stealing" the election for Mr Karzai, pointing out that a number of polling stations posted nearly identical numbers for the President and none for any other candidate.

Dr Abdullah has demanded the end to the publication of partial results and declared that he would not accept a victory being awarded to Mr Karzai based on "manufactured voting".

The chairman of the electoral commission, Daud Ali Najafi, said. "The IEC has been completely impartial in fulfilling its duties throughout the process."

The preliminary results, which are due to be announced in full in the next few days, will have to be "certified" after all the irregularities have been examined. This could, theoretically, lead to Mr Karzai losing his majority by being stripped of votes, forcing a run-off with Dr Abdullah.