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Major fraud finding adds to pressure on Karzai

A UN-backed body found that fraud may have handed the Afghan president an illegal majority, but Karzai is resisting a runoff.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai leaves a news conference in Kabul on Oct. 11, 2009.

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai was under intense pressure Monday at home and abroad to accept a run off as a U.N.-backed body released findings that documented widespread fraud in the first round of Afghanistan's presidential elections.

The findings contain data that, once added to the existing figures, will almost certainly show that Karzai failed to gain enough valid votes for an outright win, which under Afghan law would necessitate a runoff.

The Afghan Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) released its first official findings Monday on the fraud alleged to have taken place during the poll. But while the various statements issued by the U.N.-backed commission make it clear that the fraud was widespread and significant, they did not offer any concrete numbers or percentages, much less a hint as to how the present stalemate will ultimately be resolved. 

However, Democracy International, an election support organization that ran an observer mission to Afghanistan for the August elections, was not so reticent.

Within an hour of the ECC’s statement, it issued a numbers-crunching memorandum predicting that Karzai’s results would now total just over 48 percent. Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, his main rival, would receive slightly above 31 percent. The law is clear: According to the Afghan Constitution, if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote a runoff must be held between the top two vote-getters. 

Over the past several days, the international community — including several high-profile U.S. delegations — has been conducting a frantic round of talks with Karzai and his team, trying to broker a deal, apply pressure and otherwise avoid a looming crisis. 

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a telephone call. U.S. Senator John F. Kerry came to Kabul in person, as did French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Former U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad also arrived to offer his services. 

The ECC’s findings have now been officially communicated to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which will have the final responsibility for issuing certified results. 

“The Electoral Law clearly defines our authority: ECC decisions are final and binding, and the IEC may not certify the election results until they fulfill the conditions of our decisions,” said Scott Worden, one of five ECC commissioners. 

But according to numerous inside sources, both the IEC and Karzai are resisting the ECC’s findings and the subsequent runoff vote. 

Asked what would happen if the IEC simply refused to accept the decision, one election official just shrugged. 

“It’s a good question,” said the official. “But it’s anybody’s guess.”