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Afghan vote fraud claims soar

KABUL, Aug 31 – Allegations of election fraud in Afghanistan soared on Monday ahead of the release of a fourth tranche of results from presidential polls in which incumbent Hamid Karzai is apparently cruising towards victory.

Officials are to announce results from around half of polling stations later on Monday following Afghanistan’s second direct presidential vote, which was overshadowed by an escalating Taliban insurgency and abysmal turnout.

Complaints of fraud are flooding in daily to Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), which is scrambling to investigate more than 2,500 allegations that fraud compromised the August 20 elections.

"We have received 691 complaints which are priority A," said EEC spokesman Ahmad Muslim Khuram, adding that 2,097 complaints had been received since election day, with the total since campaigning began in mid-June at 2,564.

The flood of complaints has heightened concerns that the legitimacy of the final results and any Karzai victory will be compromised.

Priority A is the tag given to complaints that have the potential to change the results and which must be fully investigated by the ECC before the body can certify the final results, which are not expected until mid-September at the earliest.

"It’s too early to say it (the result) will change because somehow we didn’t finish our investigation. Priority A means these complaints are serious enough and have evidence," Khuram told AFP.

Out of 2.03 million valid votes released by the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which has come under criticism for favouring the incumbent, Karzai won 940,558 and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah 638,924.

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The figures give Karzai 46.2 percent of votes announced and Abdullah 31.4 percent, according to the IEC results website. Karzai needs 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a second round.

The results are being released in stages in a process that IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said would lead to the announcement of preliminary results between September 3 and September 7, and the final tally on September 17.

Noor said election officials expected to announce results from around 52 percent of polling stations later Monday, which will include results from 35 percent of polling stations already made public.

"Until now we don’t have the exact figure of participation in the election so we’re just counting by polling station and we’re just releasing to the media the percentage of the polling stations," he said.

The United States and its Western allies initially welcomed the elections as a success, but fraud concerns and early results that point to turnout of 30-35 percent have raised questions about the legitimacy of the outcome.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the European Union presidency, stressed Western concerns about the election’s legitimacy in a blog entry as he headed to Afghanistan on Sunday for talks with Karzai.

"Now it is important that the election result that is coming forth is seen as somewhat legitimate in Afghanistan itself and that it can thereby provide a basis for political stability in the coming year at least," Bildt wrote.

Abdullah, who has accused his opponent of rigging the vote, said he would not accept a compromised outcome and would examine all legal avenues to counter what he called "state-engineered fraud".


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