, KABUL, Sept 16 – EU observers on Wednesday branded as suspicious 1.5 million votes from Afghanistan’s presidential election and refused to be party to any "massive fraud", flinging the polls into deeper controversy.
Afghans voted August 20 in their second presidential election, but claims of vote-rigging have prompted a partial recount, meaning the new leader will not be declared for weeks, exacerbating the problems facing the war-torn country.
With about 95 percent of the vote counted so far, incumbent Hamid Karzai is the clear frontrunner with more than 54 percent of the vote, but the scale of the recount could tip the balance and necessitate a run-off.
"We have calculated 1.5 million suspicious votes," said Dimitra Ioannou, the deputy head of the EU Election Observation Mission to Afghanistan.
She told reporters that 1.1 million of the suspicious votes were cast for Karzai and 300,000 for his main rival Abdullah Abdullah. The remainder of the suspicious votes were cast for other candidates.
So far, the IEC has counted 5.8 million votes, meaning that the European Union has raised concerns about a quarter of all ballots tallied.
Ioannou said the EU calculations were made on the fraud parameters initially set by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) — 100 percent turnout at a polling station or more than 90 percent of votes of one candidate.
The IEC has only identified 600 polling stations, however, or about 350,000 votes for investigation. Ioannou said the government-appointed body, which Afghans have accused of bias, had not followed its initial rules.
The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has ordered recounts at more than 2,500 polling stations. The chief observer of the EU mission said Afghans and the international community must let the ECC do its job.
"We are not saying that every one of these votes must be fraudulent. It proves that an enquiry must be made in every one of the cases, in every polling station concerned," Philippe Morillon told a press conference in Kabul.
"We refuse to be complicit in any attempt of massive fraud," he added.
Full preliminary results are due to be released Wednesday, nearly a month after the election, although the final declaration of a winner will not come until all the electoral irregularities are resolved.
"Today we will announce the preliminary results of the presidential election, based on 100 percent of the polling centres," IEC spokesman Abdul Rahim Nawakhtyar told AFP.
"We will also announce the turnout and other figures. All details will be included," he said.
Asked about investigations into allegations of vote-rigging and whether suspicious votes will be included in the tally, he said: "All I can say is that the preliminary results will be based on the qualified polling stations."
The winner must have 50 percent of the final tally, plus one vote in order to avoid a run-off between the two leading candidates.
Analysts and observers have warned that time is running out to organise a second round, with expected winter snow in two months making the logistics of organising an election in undeveloped Afghanistan impossible.
This could create a dangerous political vacuum in a nation where more than 100,000 US and NATO-led troops are stationed to battle a virulent insurgency by Taliban militants bent on toppling the government.
Turnout is estimated to have been 30-35 percent owing to intimidation of voters by Taliban militants, whose insurgency against the Afghan government and Western troops is at its deadliest in eight years.