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    Afghan Commission:  Karzai Leads in Preliminary Vote Tally

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    Afghanistan's government-appointed Independent Election Commission has released what it calls "final but preliminary" results from the August 20 vote for president. The disputed returns show incumbent President Hamid Karzai with enough ballots to avoid a runoff with former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. But the controversy is far from over.

    The complete preliminary results show Afghan President Hamid Karzai with more than 54 percent of the votes and Abdullah Abdullah with less than 28 percent.

    Chief Electoral Officer Daoud Ali Najafi informed reporters of the vote totals.

    "Abdullah Abdullah has received 1,571,581 votes. Hamid Karzai has received 3,093,256 votes," he said.  

    The Abdullah campaign has complained for weeks that supporters of the president rigged the election, even at polling booths where Mr. Karzai had strong support. It is an allegation that has gained credence from neutral observers.

    The Election Complaints Commission has ordered a recount involving at least 10 percent of voting stations nationwide. The ECC, dominated by appointees of the United Nations, issued the order to the Afghan government's Election Commission following hundreds of what it deemed serious complaints of ballot box stuffing and other allegations of fraud.

    European Union election observers question the validity of about a third of the ballots, nearly 1.5 million. EU observers tell reporters in Kabul that under suspicion are some 1.1 million votes cast for Mr. Karzai and 300,000 ballots marked for Mr. Abdullah.

    President Karzai's campaign calls the EU observer team's comments "irresponsible." Karzai supporters say they are hoping that even after ballots deemed fraudulent are discarded the president will still have more than 50 percent of total votes to avoid a runoff election with Mr. Abdullah.

    The head of the EU observer team, Phillippe Morillon, says that in the mean time, the Karzai campaign should refrain from declaring victory.

    "Any claim for any count or of victory will be premature and not credible and will be premature due to the fact that the Afghan electoral law asks for the results to be authenticated at the end of the process," he said.

    But recounting and certifying the results are expected to take some weeks, if not longer.

    A runoff election is supposed to be held two weeks after the final results are certified. But a second round of balloting might not feasible if inclement weather sets in. That might leave Afghanistan with what many would view as an illegitimate government until the snow melts in April.  


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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