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Afghan Runoff Grows Likely Following Fraud Probe

October 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: The likelihood of a runoff in Afghanistan’s disputed presidential election came closer today.

The Washington Post reported on an investigation by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission. It shows President Karzai’s share of the vote has fallen below 50 percent. That would trigger the runoff. An announcement from the commission was imminent.

Judy Woodruff has our lead story report.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Post story came on a day of further violence in the country. Four Afghans, at least two of them civilians, were killed in Ghazni Province, after a joint international Afghan force launched a raid of several homes where militants were suspected of hiding.

COL. WAYNE SHANKS, U.S. Military spokesman: The insurgents don’t have any respect for the civilians in the area, because they regularly put them at harm. And, in this case, unfortunately, there were deaths there, but you have seen that again and again across the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced the deaths of four American troops in a bombing yesterday, bringing the number of U.S. forces killed this month to 25.

That violence comes against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s ongoing political instability. Today’s Washington Post story cited anonymous official sources who claimed the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission had reached what they called a stunning conclusion.

Those sources said, with fraudulent ballots discounted, President Hamid Karzai’s vote tally would fall from 55 percent to 47 percent, triggering a runoff against his closest competitor. That’s former Afghan Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Afghan presidential candidate: My preference is going for the second round. We are ready. And I have not dismantled the infrastructure of our campaign, though the campaign will be different this time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The timing of any runoff election is unclear. The U.S. and its NATO allies want voting to take place in early November to avoid the harsh Afghan winter. But the Afghan ambassador to the U.S. has said that may be impossible.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CNN a new election could be carried out soon.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: It is likely that they will find that President Karzai got very close to the 50, plus one, percent, so I think one can conclude that the likelihood of him winning a second round is — is probably pretty high.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The final report from the Electoral Commission could come out as early as tomorrow.