A U.N. backed monitoring body ordered Afghanistan’s election commission to recount ballots from about 10 per cent of the country’s polling stations because of suspicious totals in last month’s Presidential vote, an official said on Tuesday.
The recount order raises the possibility that President Hamid Karzai’s lead could drop below the 50 per cent threshold, forcing the country to hold a second-round runoff between Mr. Karzai and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah.
More than 2,500 polling sites from the August 20 Presidential election will need to be recounted, said Grant Kippen, the head of the Electoral Complaints Commission, a U.N.-backed body headed by three international and two Afghan commissioners.
Massive allegations of fraud have tainted the country’s second-ever direct Presidential vote. Last week the ECC ordered Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, the body in charge of the election, to recount and audit ballot boxes from stations that had 100 per cent turnout or where a candidate received more than 95 per cent of the valid votes.
The number of stations affected by the order turned out to be more than 2,500, Mr. Kippen said. There were about 26,300 polling stations across Afghanistan on election day.
The most serious allegations of fraud have been lodged in southern Afghanistan, where Mr. Karzai would expect strong support from his fellow ethnic Pashtuns, though Mr. Kippen said that all provinces were affected by the order to recount the 2,500 sites.
The ECC has already thrown out ballots from 83 polling stations because of fraud allegations, all in areas of support for Mr. Karzai.
The country’s election commission originally hoped to declare a certified winner this week, but claims of ballot-stuffing and phantom voters have pushed that timeline back weeks, leaving the country in political limbo at a time the Taliban is unleashing a record number of attacks.
Thousands of fake ballots were submitted across the country, and returns showed Mr. Karzai winning 100 per cent of the vote in some districts.
The most recent partial count of the preliminary results has Mr. Karzai leading with 54 per cent to former foreign minister Mr. Abdullah’s 28 per cent. If enough votes are eliminated for fraud complaints, Mr. Karzai’s tally could fall below the 50-per cent threshold, forcing a two-man runoff. The current results reflect 93 per cent of polling stations, with 5 per cent of the votes still to be counted and the remaining 2 per cent quarantined for suspected fraud.
Mr. Grant said it was not clear how much longer the ECC and IEC would need to complete the fraud investigations and recounts, though he has hinted that weeks of work remain.
“We need to be thorough about the job that we need to do,” he said.