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Quick Declaration in Afghan Presidential Election Unlikely


Hopes are fading in Afghanistan of quickly declaring last week's presidential election a success amid widespread fraud allegations. Additional, partial results from the on-going vote count are not due to be released until Saturday. Incumbent President Hamid Karzai, so far, has a modest lead over former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Afghanistan's Election Complaints Commission, partly appointed by the United Nations, has received 1,500 formal complaints - and one out of every ten have been deemed serious enough to merit investigation. That is a process that could delay next month's timetable to certify the election results.

Meanwhile, the Independent Election Commission has fallen behind in releasing preliminary and partial results. Eight days after the election, votes from less than one-fifth of all polling stations have been made public.

Allegations of stuffing ballot boxes involving many hundreds of thousands of votes, amid a lower than expected voter turnout, have tarnished the image of the August 20 election.

In some districts, where Taliban insurgents are active, few people cast ballots due to concerns of violent retaliation against voters.

Marvin Weinbaum, a Middle East Institute scholar and former State Department intelligence analyst, told a Heritage Foundation forum in Washington Thursday a flawed election could "delegitimize" the Karzai administration.

"There's hard evidence now of large-scale ballot box stuffing, destruction of ballots, falsification of tallies. And I think that there's going to be much more evidence presented in the next few weeks," said Weinbaum.

Complaints of ballot-box stuffing have also been leveled at the Abdullah campaign.

If electoral officials declare Mr. Karzai received less than a majority of the votes, he and his top challenger would have to compete in a second round of voting.

Former CIA South Asia analyst Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation explains the risks and advantages of that.

"While this may prolong the period of uncertainty, thus raising the potential for more Taliban violence and intimidation, it could also bolster the Afghans' faith in the democratic process by demonstrating it was truly a competitive campaign," said Curtis.

The vote-rigging allegations and the possibility of a runoff appear to have been raised with President Karzai as early as the day after the election. The Afghan president met with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke at a dinner in Kabul that evening.

The U.S. Embassy here, commenting on the media reports of a less-than-diplomat conversation that night says, in a statement, "there was no shouting and no one stormed out." An Embassy spokesperson tells VOA it is up to the electoral bodies of the country to determine whether there should be a run-off.

There are indications the new administration in Washington may be putting greater pressure on the Afghan president to take a harder line on corruption and minimize ties with warlords and other supporters who are accused of human rights abuses or drug trafficking.

President Obama may soon have to decide whether to bolster the presence of American forces here, already numbering more than 60,000. Recent opinion polls in the United States find public support dropping for American military involvement in Afghanistan.

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