Karzai Aide Casts Doubt on Findings of Electoral Panel

By Joshua Partlow and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 17, 2009

KABUL, Oct. 16 -- President Hamid Karzai's office on Friday sought to distance itself from the commission investigating allegations of electoral fraud in Afghanistan, a day after officials said the U.N.-elected body would announce that a runoff is needed.

A spokesman for Karzai, Wahid Omar, said the Electoral Complaints Commission is "being manipulated politically, and it doesn't remain a technical process anymore." He suggested that Karzai may not accept the findings of the commission.

"If they call for a runoff, that's going to be a political decision, obviously maneuvered by many people," he said. "Then the president is going to make a political decision."

Preliminary results by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission gave Karzai 54.6 percent of the Aug. 20 vote, and he maintains that he should be the winner. But the complaints commission's investigation has reduced Karzai's share of the vote to about 47 percent, according to officials familiar with the results. Any total below 50 percent, if certified by the election commission, would require a runoff between Karzai and his closest competitor, Abdullah Abdullah.

But one Western official in Afghanistan described disagreements over methodology between the two commissions that could further delay a resolution and aggravate the political upheaval in the country. The complaints panel has completed its audit of more than 3,300 polling stations with suspect votes and is expected to announce publicly Saturday how the election results should be adjusted. Those results need the certification of the Independent Election Commission.

"There is a dispute between the two," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "There is a potential for a protracted set of discussions."

If a runoff is called, it is supposed to be held within two weeks, but many here say that the logistical and security hurdles are too large for that to happen. If delays stretch into winter, severe weather could make voting impossible for months. The Western official said that the candidates are under pressure from the international community to avoid such a prolonged crisis and to consider forming some type of coalition government, but that no deals have been made.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told CNN on Friday that if the complaints commission calls for a second round, "that is what should happen."

"It is likely that they will find that President Karzai got very close to the 50, plus 1, percent," she said. "So, I think one can conclude that the likelihood of him winning a second round is probably pretty high."

DeYoung reported from Washington. Special correspondent Javed Hamdard in Kabul contributed to this report.

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