Afghanistan's president is denying there was any major fraud in last month's voting. Full, preliminary results show the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, capturing enough votes to avoid a runoff with his closest challenger.
For the first time since the August 20 election, President Karzai has addressed allegations made by domestic and foreign observers of massive ballot-box stuffing.
"Fraud - if it is committed - it has to be investigated, but investigated fairly and without prejudice," Karzai said.
The president says media reports have exaggerated the incidents of fraud. Auditing and recounting of votes could reduce his total below the majority needed to avoid a run-off against former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
European Union election observers contend about 30 percent of the ballots are tainted, including more than one-million suspect votes for the incumbent.
The votes were counted by the government-appointed Independent Election Commission. A partial recount has been ordered by another body, the Election Complaints Commission, which is dominated by appointees of the United Nations.
The U.N. Mission in Afghanistan is, itself, split over how tough overseers should be concerning the fraud allegations. The second-in-command at the mission, American diplomat Peter Galbraith, confirms he left Afghanistan after a disagreement with U.N. Special Representative Kai Eide on the post-election approach. Reports say Ambassador Galbraith has sided with the Canadian chairman of the Electoral Complaints Commission, Grant Kippen, to take a hard line and toss out all tainted ballots.
A more cautious group of officials and diplomats, contending a fraud-free election is impossible, warns of the dangers of attempting to hold a run-off in a country fighting a worsening insurgency. Some are calling for the incumbent and the top challenger to be pressured into a power-sharing deal.
The electoral crisis comes as Taliban forces have widened their influence and increased attacks on the 42-nation member coalition and Afghan troops.
The United States, which has the majority of the 100,000 armed personnel in Afghanistan, is debating whether to send more troops. This comes at a time when American public support for the eight-year military campaign is on the wane.