Afghan President Hamid Karzai stressed his support for Afghanistan’s election commission as international trust in the group appeared to erode following allegations of widespread fraud in last month’s presidential poll.
Karzai’s praise on Wednesday for the Independent Election Commission came a day after it announced preliminary results giving him more than 50 percent of the vote, the threshold for avoiding a runoff against his top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
The Aug. 20 election, the second direct presidential vote in Afghanistan’s history, was marred by attacks by Taliban insurgents and has been tainted by allegations of massive fraud ranging from ballot-box stuffing to fake polling stations.
A separate UN-backed body charged with investigating the fraud ordered a partial re-count on Tuesday. Polling stations with turnouts at or above 100 percent and voting centers where one candidate won 95 percent of the vote need to be audited and re-counted under the order.
The Afghan-run commission said it has quarantined votes that appear fraudulent — pending review by the UN-backed complaints body on whether they should be counted or discarded — but tallies posted on its Web site show Karzai garnering between 95 percent and 100 percent of votes at more than 20 voting centers.
Apparently conflicting standards of what constitutes fraud in the eyes of the Afghan election commission — whose officers are appointed by Karzai and which runs the election process and the complaints body, three of whose five members are appointed by the UN — signal a widening fissure between the government and the international overseers of the vote.
A senior Western diplomat has alleged that a majority of votes in three Afghan provinces — Kandahar, Paktika and Khost — are fraudulent.
Partial returns from each of those provinces heavily favor Karzai.
Others have alleged there have been as many as 800 fake polling sites and that results have been submitted from voting centers that never opened because of poor security.
On Tuesday, the top UN envoy to the country and the US embassy both issued strong statements calling for rigorous efforts to identify fraud and exclude all fraudulent votes.
Karzai’s statement set a different tone.
The president said he “applauds the elections commission for its efforts in pursuing the process in an impartial and faithful national spirit.”
The president’s statement came after the commission announced on Tuesday that with 92 percent of polling stations now counted, preliminary results show Karzai has 54 percent of the vote, against 28 percent for Abdullah.
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