Afghan election announcement expected within days
Officials said an announcement could be made before the end of the week on who is to be the country's next president, or whether there will be a run-off between the two main candidates.Kabul -- Afghanistan's electoral authorities are expected to announce their decision on fraud allegations plaguing the presidential election within days but the bitter wrangling is likely to drag on.
Officials said an announcement could be made before the end of the week on who is to be the country's next president, or whether there will be a run-off between the two main candidates.
Afghans voted on August 20 but the elections have been overshadowed by allegations of fraud, most against incumbent Hamid Karzai, including findings by EU observers that a quarter of all votes, or 1.5 million, were suspicious.
Karzai leads preliminary results with around 55 percent of the vote. He needs 50 percent plus one vote to be declared the winner.
His main rival Abdullah Abdullah has around 28 percent.
Preparations have been made for a run-off between the two, which experts say would have to be held as soon as possible as winter snows will soon make large parts of the country impassable.
Almost two months after the vote, patience with the drawn-out process is wearing thin and an international research organisation says those in Karzai's southern powerbase are so disillusioned they might not vote in a run-off.
The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), which has a research centre in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand -- where turnout is believed to have been well below 10 percent -- said sentiment in the region is turning against the election amid disgust over fraud.
"Disillusionment with the election process as a result of the fraud is so high that it could result in a boycott of a second round," said Norine MacDonald, ICOS president and founder. "Perceptions of Karzai's complicity in the fraud and the resulting political dramas have turned his traditional voting base against him, which means if he is confronted with a second round he will have substantial work to do to even get out those votes he got legitimately the first time round."
Audits of suspicious ballot boxes were finished last week and investigations into fraud complaints should be completed by Wednesday, a source with the Electoral Complaints Commission said, adding the Independent Election Commission should make its decision -- declaration or run-off -- by the end of the week.
Abdullah, who has been loudest in accusing Karzai of ballot-stuffing, told AFP on Sunday he was "convinced about the transparency" of the process.
But he said he believed a run-off would be called.
"Based on our understanding and on what we have monitored and observed during the auditing process, it will go to a second round," he said, adding: "I will reserve my reaction to that eventuality."
Abdullah's comments have in the past been interpreted as a tacit green light to his supporters to take to the streets against a Karzai win.
While widespread violence is unlikely, MacDonald said demonstrations in Abdullah's northern strongholds should not be ruled out.
"They will be angry," she said of Abdullah's supporters. "They might decide to blockade parliament, there will be political trouble, there won't be harmony, there will be jirgas, but I don't think Abdullah will stir them up."
Atta Mohammad Noor, powerful governor of northern Balkh province, who was appointed by the president but backed Abdullah in the election, said a Karzai win would not be accepted if it was seen as fraudulent.
"If Karzai wins through fraud, the governor will not support him and will not accept him as president," Atta's spokesman Munir Ahmad Farhad said.
For his part, Karzai says ballot-stuffing allegations are overblown, and told Afghan reporters Sunday that Western media exaggerated the level of fraud.
The election has highlighted the corruption of Karzai's government, supported by the US and Europe where the public is rapidly turning against the growing cost in blood and money of remaining committed to Afghanistan.
Foreign troop deaths are already over 400 for 2009, as the war enters its ninth year and Western aid tops 20 billion dollars with little to show.
This year's Nobel Peace laureate US President Barack Obama is considering requests from his military commanders to send more troops -- on top of the more than 100,000 already under NATO and US command -- to fight the Taliban.