The Afghan elections, already tainted by widespread accusations of misconduct and fraud, received another body blow Wednesday when the head of the European Union's election-monitoring commission said that as many as 1.1 million votes cast in the vote were "suspect."
The latest dark cloud over the Aug. 20 election came as Afghanistan's election commission released a preliminary vote tally Wednesday showing President Hamid Karzai with 54.6 percent of the votes cast – enough to avoid a runoff if the total stands up to one official recount already launched and to mounting doubts like those from the EU.
The EU's general depiction of fraud was bad enough. But even more damaging to the Western-backed government of President Karzai was the finding by Phillippe Morillon, head of the EU monitor, that more than one-third of the votes Mr. Karzai received in his reelection bid – 1.1 million of about 3 million votes for Karzai – could be fraudulent and must be investigated.
In addition to the preliminary vote total, the election commission concluded that turnout in the election was 38 percent – much lower than the 70 percent that voted in Afghanistan's first presidential election in 2004 and a number that is likely to feed doubts about the government's legitimacy.
Reaction from the Karzai campaign organization to the EU's pronouncement was swift and hinted at a growing frustration with outside influences in Afghanistan. Antiforeign sentiment was inflamed earlier this year over rising civilian casualties from NATO military operations in the country, and now it has spiked again in recent weeks as Western governments and international NGOs have ratcheted up criticism of last month's election.
Calling the EU statement "irresponsible and in contradiction with Afghanistan's constitution," Karzai's supporters said in their own statement that any allegations of electoral impropriety are the sole domain of the Election Complaints Commission, a national body backed by the United Nations. That commission has already ordered a recount of about 10 percent of polling stations, a move that could put off for weeks a final announcement of the election's outcome.
The preliminary tally of election results showed Karzai with 54.6 percent of the vote, compared with 27.7 percent for his chief electoral rival, Abdullah Abdullah. The recount of polling stations, if limited to the 10 percent already announced, would have to deliver a massive shift away from Karzai to force the incumbent into a runoff.
The electoral turmoil is another sprung leak in the cracking dam that Afghanistan presents to President Obama.
As recently as last week, on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Obama reminded Americans that the war in Afghanistan is necessary to deny the likes of Al Qaeda another safe haven and to ward off a Taliban takeover.
But critics of the war, including some conservatives, point to rampant corruption in the country – as observed, they say, in the recent elections – as one reason the eight-year-old US effort will never transform Afghanistan into a reliable partner in the global battle with extremism.
Increasingly, polls show that Americans who once supported the continued deployment of troops to Afghanistan are souring on the war.
That souring comes just as US commanders in Afghanistan are hinting that they will seek another boost in US forces in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, told a congressional committee that the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, would "probably" seek a further increase over the 68,000 troop level the American force is slated to reach in November.
Obama says he will seriously weigh the requests he receives from his commanders in Afghanistan, but the deepening political turmoil there will not make that deliberation any easier.
[Editor's note: The subhead originally had the wrong number for Karzai's vote to be investigated. There were 1.1 million votes.]
Taliban roils 80 percent of Afghanistan
Follow us on Twitter.