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Runoff Expected in Afghan Election, Reports Say

BY Larisa Epatko  October 16, 2009 at 2:50 PM EST

Voters in Aug. 20 elections in Afghanistan; AFP/Getty Images

As a U.N.-backed commission neared a decision Friday on allegations of fraud in Afghanistan’s presidential vote, media reports indicated a runoff may be likely between President Hamid Karzai and second-place finisher Abdullah Abdullah.

Officials familiar with the results said allegedly fraudulent ballots would reduce Karzai’s portion of the Aug. 20 vote to about 47 percent, the Washington Post reported.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission had given Karzai 54.6 percent of the vote. At least 50 percent was needed to avoid a runoff.

Karzai’s ambassador in Washington, Said Tayeb Jawad, predicted Thursday that a second round of voting was very likely.

The Afghan constitution requires a runoff within two weeks of certification. Jawad called that “impossible” at a U.S. Institute of Peace event, but “to delay until spring is a recipe for disaster,” he added, quoted the Post.

The United States and NATO agreed last month that if there was to be a runoff, it would have to be held by the first week in November to avoid a low turnout due to the winter weather. Voters in Afghanistan often travel long distances to get to polling sites.

The ECC is reviewing about a quarter of the 5.66 million votes cast before giving its verdict to the Afghan election commission which will then make a formal announcement on the fate of the vote.

“We are still working today,” said Nellika Little, an ECC spokeswoman, adding that the commission was looking to issue its ruling around Saturday, Reuters reported. “We don’t want to rush it. There is a lot of work to do.”

The controversy surrounding the vote has been a major factor in the Obama administration’s review of Afghan strategy and the question of whether to send more troops.

Underscoring concerns that violence is rising in the country, the U.S. military said four American troops were killed in a bombing in southern Afghanistan. The deaths brought to 25 the number of U.S. troops killed in the country this month, according to the Associated Press.

In addition, NATO officials in Afghanistan said a woman and school-aged girl died in an operation by foreign and Afghan forces against suspected militants in the southeastern Ghazni province, reported Reuters.

A group of 100 angry Afghans could be seen later in the day marching through a nearby village shouting “Death to America” and “Death to Hamid Karzai”, Reuters reported.

A U.N. report released in September said more than 1,500 civilians have been killed by violence in Afghanistan so far this year: 68 percent by militant attacks and 23 percent by Afghan and foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military.