A United Nations-backed body monitoring the Afghan election said Tuesday it has found "clear and convincing" evidence of fraud at 10 percent of the country's polling stations, and has ordered a recount of all ballots cast at those locations.
The announcement looked set to prolong the political uncertainty that has beset the war-torn nation since last month’s presidential election, since no official result announcement can be made until the recount is complete and all fraud complaints have been looked into.
The news comes amid reports of internal division within the UN body, with the top US representative Peter Galbraith – who backed a much broader recount and stricter antifraud standard – reportedly ordered out of the country by his boss.
Afghans cast their votes for president and provincial leadership at some 25,000 polling locations on Aug. 20. The vote result has been delayed for weeks due to widespread reports of irregularities.
The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission last week ordered that ballots from polling stations with "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" be recounted, and its chairman said 2,500 such stations had been identified.
"About 2,500 plus polling stations are affected by the order and all provinces are affected," ECC chairman Grant Kippen told AFP.
"Those are the ones based on our order -- that's what has been identified," he added.
Galbraith backs a tougher line on the vote count, which would make it harder for incumbent President Karzai to claim victory.
Mr Galbraith, a close friend of the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, left for Boston on Sunday after a heated meeting with Afghan election officials. His “pointed” questions to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) were evidence of a much tougher line towards the Afghan authorities than the “softly-softly” approach of Mr Eide, who heads the UN mission to Kabul.
“The relationship between Kai and Peter has completely broken down,” said a diplomat in Kabul. “Peter has left the country. The official line is that he’s on a three-week mission to New York. But Kai just turned round to Peter and said, ‘I want you out’.”
A run-off, or second election, would be required if Karzai's vote count falls below 50 percent after the recount and fraud probe, the BBC said.