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Trickle of returns flows to Karzai

Video: As the dust clears after the election, certainty is still a ways off.

A man carries a ballot box past a stack of others at the Independent Election Commission in Kabul on Aug. 24, 2009. Ballots are still being counted across the country, but preliminary results released Tuesday put incumbent President Hamed Karzai slightly ahead of Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah in Afghanistan's presidential election. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

KABUL — Preliminary results in Afghanistan’s presidential elections were released Tuesday, but the figures are likely to raise many more questions than they answer.

Based on only 10 percent of the vote, incumbent President Hamed Karzai comes out with a narrow lead over his chief rival, former Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Within the limited votes counted, Karzai does not produce the margin of 50 percent-plus-one necessary to avoid a runoff vote between the two leading candidates.

Nothing is official yet, nor likely to be for several weeks as more ballots are counted across a country with a population that lives predominantly in remote villages and as mounting claims of fraud are investigated. But the early and incomplete results seem to suggest a close race even if most observers are predicting the election will ultimately end in a clear victory for Karzai.

Out of slightly more than 550,000 total votes, or about 10 percent of the turnout, Karzai received 212,927, to Abdullah’s 202,889. Third in line came Ramazan Bashar Dost, the loose-cannon populist reformer who energized the campaign with his calls for invading Iran. He received just over 50,000 votes.

Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was a distant fourth, with slightly more than 15,000 votes, and the rest of the 35-member field split the rest.

(Here's how one provincial governor spent a harrowing election day)

The Independent Election Commission is dispensing its data with agonizing slowness. They will hold a press conference every day until Sept. 3, the deadline for preliminary results, giving updates on the progress of the count.

“They are afraid,” said Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, a journalist in Kabul. “They want to do this very slowly.”

These numbers will then be subject to vetting from the Electoral Complaints Commission, which has the task of investigating allegations of fraud and irregularities. No results will be official until at least mid-September. The chairman of the ECC, Grant Kippen has already warned that the Sept. 17 deadline may be highly unrealistic. An initial wave of complaints has grown into a tsunami, threatening to overwhelm the election process: more than 700 have been received so far, and the ECC has said publicly that at least 50 of those are serious enough to skew the final results.

The allegations range from voter intimidation to outright ballot-box stuffing, with the majority of the accusations leveled at Karzai’s campaign teams. Inflated voter turnout figures for the south and southeast have also raised suspicion.

While electoral commission chairman Daoud Ali Najafi warned sternly at Tuesday’s press conference that only the IEC had the authority to announce results, the media has been having a field day predicting a huge landslide for Karzai. A fairly stable figure of 72 percent for the president has been liberally bandied about, giving Abdullah a mere 26 percent of the final total.

“There will be no second round of voting,” an Afghan government insider predicted confidently. “The deal has been done. Karzai will get his first-round victory, and Abdullah will accept it.”