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Afghan election results close as fraud claims mount

Top candidates Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah stand nearly tied at 40 percent. But 90 percent of polling stations remain to be counted and a rising number of fraud complaints adjudicated.

By Staff writer / August 25, 2009

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, the top rival of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, displays allegedly fraudulent ballot papers during a news conference at his residence in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday.

Rafiq Maqbool/AP

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Partial tallies of Afghanistan’s presidential election reveal a neck-and-neck race between the incumbent Hamid Karzai and his strongest rival. Only 10 percent of the polling stations had been counted as of Tuesday afternoon and complaints of electoral fraud continue to mount, threatening to become the main theme of this election.

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President Karzai leads 40.6 to 38.7 percent over his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. If neither tops 50 percent, the election will go to a runoff on Oct. 1. Many provinces with population centers believed favorable to Mr. Karzai remain largely uncounted, according to breakdowns given by the Independent Election Commission (IEC).

Initial results show low turnout

The initial figures say next to nothing, warn analysts, beyond confirming that turnout was low. Voters cast only 555,842 ballots in the one-tenth of polling stations counted so far, suggesting the final total will be in the ballpark of 5 million out of 17 million registered. In 2004, 7 million voters took part out of 10 million registered.

“Releasing partial data before final results are available is a meaningless exercise,” says Candace Rondeaux, a senior analyst based in Kabul for the International Crisis Group. “All this does is encourage the possibility of fraud.”

She explains that if Karzai and Dr. Abdullah are rigging votes in their favor, early results would allow them to gauge the success of their efforts and adjust their methods accordingly.

Also adding up: evidence of fraud

Fraud is rapidly overtaking the narrative of this election. On Tuesday Abdullah showed journalists video footage of electoral commission workers falsifying ballots for Karzai.

Independent Electoral Commission secretary Daud Ali Najafy said Tuesday that three workers were fired after pictures surfaced of them with multiple registration cards filling out ballots. A fourth was fired for trying to intimidate voters.

The Electoral Complaints Commission says it received at least 1,087 official complaints of irregularities on or after election day. At least 128 of those could impact the final vote tally.

Not everyone agrees that a release of partial voting tallies was a mistake.

“This number does not indicate anything about the result of the elections. But what is very important is that this announcement today has provided the ground to prevent another crisis since every candidate before was announcing their victory ahead of the result and that has created a negative sentiment for the followers,” says Kabul-based analyst Qasim Akhgar.

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