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New Karzai Tally Would Avoid Run-off, but Fraud Concerns Persist

BY Dave Gustafson   September 8, 2009 at 10:29 AM EDT

Afghan President Hamid Karzai; AFP/Getty Images

However, a U.N.-backed commission has ordered a recount of some tainted ballots as election fraud allegations continue to mount.

Daoud Ali Najafi, the chief electoral officer of the Afghan-run Independent Election Commission, said that recounting votes could take “two or three months,” meaning the final result likely won’t be known in the near future, according to the Associated Press.

The latest vote tally, which comes from nearly 92 percent of Afghanistan’s polling sites, shows Karzai with 54.1 percent of the votes, pushing him over the level that would permit him to declare outright victory and avoid a run-off with main challenger Abdullah Abdullah.

Earlier Tuesday, the Electoral Complaints Commission, a separate U.N.-backed watchdog panel, said it had uncovered evidence of election fraud.

“In the course of its investigations, the ECC has found clear and convincing evidence of fraud in a number of polling stations,” the ECC statement said, according to Reuters.

It ordered the IEC to recount votes from polling stations where one candidate received more than 95 percent of the votes, or where more than 600 votes were cast, the most that could be cast a single station.

“The ECC also noted that the overwhelming majority of stations in which it found fraud had a number of ballots cast that were far in excess of what could be expected based on credible observer reports of low voter turnout,” the ECC said.

As election results have come in from southern Afghanistan, where Karzai’s support is strong, former foreign minister Abdullah’s standing has eroded. He now has 28.3 percent of the vote.

But doubts continue to grow about the credibility of the election, seen as critical to the Western-backed efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and win public support for the fight against the Taliban insurgency.

“I think the likelihood here is that this is going to take many, many weeks to sort out. I mean, there’s … 650 really substantial complaints of corruption that have to be investigated before they’re going to declare a winner,” New York Times reporter told the NewsHour on Sept. 2 from Kabul.

The Afghan-run election commission quarantined ballots from more than 600 polling stations ruled to have been spoiled or tainted by fraud, out of more than 26,000 polling stations. The results announced Tuesday discount those ballots, but the Electoral Complaints Commission will investigate and determine their validity.

Separately, the U.N.- supported ECC ordered a recount at polling stations where it had found “convincing evidence” of fraud,” meaning Karzai could still have votes taken away from him. More than 720 major fraud charges have been lodged with the complaints commission.

Results were not scheduled to be certified until late September, but Najafi’s statement that recounts could take months puts that timeframe into question.

Western officials say ballots may have been submitted from hundreds of fake voting sites, especially across southern Afghanistan, the AP reported. The election commission has tallied dozens of voting sites where Karzai won neatly rounded blocks of ballots — 200, 300 and 500 votes — results that one Western official labeled “illogical.”

Afghanistan’s election results have been released piecemeal by the IEC, in part to avoid angering supporters of any one candidate. Prior to Tuesday’s tally, figures released Sunday gave Karzai 48.6 percent to Abdullah’s 31.7 percent.