Hamid Karzai expected to gain first-round victory in Afghanistan election

Preliminary results of last week’s Afghan presidential contest are expected to show today that President Karzai is heading for a comfortable first round victory, amid widespread allegations of electoral fraud.

But it could take several weeks before an official final result is declared because Dr Abdullah Abdullah and other opponents have filed more than 1,000 complaints, which must be investigated first.

The prospect of political limbo is raising concerns just as the US is trying to increase its civilian and military presence. US military commanders in Afghanistan were reported yesterday to have told Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, that they needed more troops to defeat the Taleban.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said it was planning to release preliminary results from several provinces, covering roughly 10 per cent of the total vote, and hoped to have a national result in the first week of September. The results are rumoured to show that Mr Karzai is in the lead, having won about 70 per cent of the votes in the first batch.However, the figures do not become official until another body, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), has processed all allegations and investigated the most serious ones.

The ECC said it had received 1,157 complaints as of last night and had categorised 54 of them as high priority. It expects to receive many more. Some of the worst complaints relate to the southern province of Helmand, where British forces launched Operation Panther’s Claw in June to help to prepare for the vote. Precise details of the complaints are not yet available, but The Times has discovered more serious discrepancies in figures being reported by election officials in Helmand.

Engineer Abdul Hadee, the local IEC chief, told The Times on Thursday that fewer than 50,000 people voted in Helmand. On Sunday, he raised that estimate to 110,000. Yesterday, he insisted that more than 150,000 people had voted, saying that the previous figures were based on incomplete information. Abdul Ahad Helmandwal, a local tribal elder and representative of Mr Karzai’s campaign, said that turnout in Helmand was 300,000 and most had voted for the President.

At least two presidential candidates say that Helmand was the site of some of the worst fraud – largely because poor security meant monitors could not visit many polling stations.

An aide to Dr Abdullah said he had filed 198 complaints. “There’s been big fraud in Helmand,” he said, accusing electoral officials there of doubling the real turnout figure. He said that figures compiled by his monitors showed Dr Abdullah leading with more than 1.5 million votes — roughly 57 per cent of those counted so far.

A spokesman for Ashraf Ghani, another candidate, said his team had filed 52 complaints, including one about large-scale ballot box stuffing in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand.

“What we are happy about is that so many other candidates are also lodging complaints,” he said. “This is the only legal option we have — we don’t want our supporters on the streets.”


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