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Evidence of ballot-stuffing in Afghan election; not enough to overturn Karzai
Investigators have clear evidence of ballot-stuffing in Afghanistan's landmark presidential election but not on a scale that would overturn interim leader Hamid Karzai's victory, a senior official said Tuesday.
“Some boxes were so obviously stuffed that we don't believe they were legitimately cast votes,” Ray Kennedy, the deputy chairman of the joint UN-Afghan electoral commission, told The Associated Press.
With almost all of the approximately 8.2 million votes cast in the Oct. 9 election already counted, the U.S.-backed incumbent has secured an unassailable lead and the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
But the electoral board insists it will wait for the results of investigations into fraud allegations brought by Mr. Karzai's rivals before calling the result.
Officials say that could take until the weekend.
Mr. Karzai has been the interim leader since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. An election victory would make him Afghanistan's first popularly chosen leader after a quarter century of war and give him a five-year term, in which he has pledged to raise the country's pitiful living standards.
It could also provide a foreign policy boost to Afghanistan's main sponsor, U.S. President George W. Bush, in his own bid for re-election next week.
On Tuesday, election managers toured Afghanistan, examining some 400 ballot boxes quarantined at counting centres because of allegations of fraud, problems with paperwork and damaged seals.
Mr. Kennedy led a team to the northern city of Kunduz. Other teams were bound for Gardez, in the southeast, and Kandahar, Afghanistan's main southern city.
Mr. Kennedy said there would “almost inevitably be some (ballot) boxes excluded from the count” because of irregularities, but agreed that even if every quarantined ballot was thrown out, it wouldn't be enough to push Mr. Karzai below the 50-percent mark.
“That's my sense at this point,” he said.
With 97.7 per cent of ballots counted, Mr. Karzai has 55.4 per cent of the votes, 39 points ahead of his closest rival, former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni.
Mr. Qanooni and the third-placed candidate, former Planning Minister Mohammed Mohaqeq, have refused to concede defeat, claiming that Mr. Karzai was ahead as a result of massive fraud.
The election commission's own board is also investigating irregularities discovered in the counting process. Since Tuesday they have been examining 312 isolated boxes containing around 65,000 ballots.
Some of those boxes had been "blatantly ballot-stuffed", election operations chief David Avery told AFP, and will "just never be counted."