WASHINGTON: An investigation of allegedly fraudulent ballots in Afghanistan’s troubled election has reduced Hamid Karzai’s share of the vote to about 47 per cent, an outcome that will trigger a run-off between the President and his closest competitor, officials say.MORE AFGHANISTAN STORIESThe tally by the United Nations-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which one official called ”stunning”, was due to be finalised yesterday. Preliminary results by Afghanistan’s National Electoral Commission had given Mr Karzai 54.6 per cent of the August 20 vote.The findings have serious implications for the US Administration’s deliberations over a new Afghanistan war strategy, and could eventually help remove the cloud of illegitimacy hanging over its partner government there. But a new election could also make an already difficult situation worse, particularly if fraud is once again alleged or if the vote has to be delayed because of the onset of winter.Afghanistan’s ambassador in Washington, Said Tayeb Jawad, said on Thursday a second round of voting was ”likely”, although Mr Karzai has never said he would accept the results of the complaints panel, which must be certified by the election commission.Mr Jawad said it would be impossible to hold a run-off within the two weeks of certification, as required by the Afghan constitution. But ”to delay until spring is a recipe for disaster”, he said, and a new vote would have to be held within a month to avoid prolonging the uncertainty.The US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan agreed last month that if there was to be a run-off, it would have to be held by the first week in November before the harsh winter has fully set in.Ballots listing Mr Karzai and his closest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, printed in London in anticipation of a run-off, have already arrived at UN headquarters in Kabul, a US official in Afghanistan said, while indelible ink is ready and polling station kits are expected to be packed for distribution this week.The ”preliminary” results announced by the electoral commission last month gave Dr Abdullah, a former foreign minister, 28 per cent of the vote. The Afghan constitution mandates a run-off if no candidate wins more than half the ballots.”The big challenge is security,” the US official said of a new poll. General Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, has told UN and US officials that his forces have begun preparations for providing protection during the vote.For the US, much of the delay in determining a way forward in the war has hinged on the uncertain outcome of the elections.The US President, Barack Obama, has had five closed-door meetings with his top national security advisers this month to consider General McChrystal’s recommendation that tens of thousands of additional US troops be deployed next year. White House officials say a decision is weeks away.”We’ve got to figure out a way to give legitimacy to whoever wins,” an Administration official said. A second round, ”if clean, and if done properly, basically washes away the sins of the first”.The Washington Post
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