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New Allegations of Fraud in Afghan Election

Votes are still being counted in Afghanistan's presidential election as President Hamid Karzai moves closer to capturing enough of the official count to avoid a runoff. But a major U.S. newspaper is reporting today allegations of massive voter fraud to help Afghan president Hamid Karzai win re-election. The report comes as Afghanistan's Independent Electoral Complaints Commission says votes from nearly 500 polling stations across the country have been invalidated due to allegations of widespread fraud.

The final election results are expected later this month but could be delayed. An Afghan electoral commission says it still must clear 650 serious complaints of fraud. Many of the complaints have been lodged against supporters of incumbent President Hamid Karzai.

His main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, told reporters he is concerned about the election process and wants the international community to investigate. "My concern is that if we cannot save this process, if the future government of Afghanistan is based on fraud on top of every other problem that we have, there will be illegitimate rule," he said.

Abdullah's comments came as The New York Times today quoted unnamed Afghan and Western officials as saying Mr. Karzai's supporters created as many as 800 fake polling stations that produced hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes. The Times says the votes counted for Mr. Karzai at some polling stations may be 10 times higher than the number of people who actually voted. Mr. Karzai's supporters have so far denied taking part in efforts to rig the election.

Partial election results show that Mr. Karzai has 48.6 percent of the vote, while his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah has 31.7 percent. A candidate needs to win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

Bruce Riedel, a political analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington says, with the number of voter fraud allegations growing, the best outcome now would be to have a runoff election. "If there is a second round, it provides almost immediately credibility and legitimacy to the process. More democracy is better than less democracy, and having a second round in which there is a real runoff between two individuals will send a message to Afghans that voting counts, just as it does in any electoral process," Riedel said at a recent discussion on the election.

International and Afghan observers have also been critical of the August 20th vote. Final results from the presidential race are expected later this month after officials investigate the fraud allegations.