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Early results show runoff likely in Afghan presidential race

Fraud accusations may stall outcome, ballot officials say

An Independent Election Commission worker tallied ballots Sunday in Kabul.

S. SABAWOON/EPA

An Independent Election Commission worker tallied ballots Sunday in Kabul.

KABUL — In the first official report of partial results from the Afghan presidential election, candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani appeared to be leading in a race in which a runoff election was increasingly certain, according to data released by the Independent Election Commission on Sunday.

The commission cautioned that these early results, representing 10 percent of the votes cast April 5 in 26 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, could change as tabulating continues during the coming weeks. The votes will be fully counted by April 24 and if no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election would be held no sooner than May 28, officials have said.

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The results could be affected, possibly dramatically, by widespread fraud at the polls. The election complaints commission said Sunday it had received so many serious fraud complaints that it might have to extend the time needed to adjudicate them.

The commission said it had 870 incidents of fraud classified as serious enough to affect the outcome of the election, higher than the 815 such incidents recorded in 2009.

The commission had earlier said that complaints were fewer than in the hotly disputed 2009 election but apparently reversed that view Sunday. However, a spokesman for the commission, Nader Mohseni, said that the commission did not have records from the 2009 election and could not be sure of any comparisons made between the two polls.

With about half a million votes counted, Abdullah was leading with 212,312 votes, about 41.9 percent of the total, followed by Ghani, with 190,561 votes or 37.6 percent.

Zalmai Rassoul, a former foreign minister and loyalist of President Hamid Karzai, had 9.8 percent, and Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, a warlord and former member of Parliament, had 5.1 percent.

Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the head of the election commission, warned that “these results are changeable; it is possible that one candidate is the front-runner in today’s announcement but the next news conference may be another candidate as the front-runner.”

In addition, some votes may be disallowed. “We are investigating fraudulent votes very carefully, and there’s a strong possibility that some of the vote will be disqualified,” Nuristani said.

Even before the results were in, the apparent losing candidates were locked in negotiations with Abdullah in an effort to form coalitions in a runoff.

“These days everybody is talking to everybody,” Abdullah said in an interview Saturday while awaiting the release of the results.

“We have no doubt in our mind that by taking care of some of the problems that occurred last time and preventing them from happening again, there will be even a much, much clearer lead and victory, if it goes to the second round.”

Both Ghani’s and Abdullah’s campaigns had confidently predicted that each would win at least 50 percent of the vote in the first round.

Ghani, a technocrat and a member of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, seemed to garner widespread support among them. Rassoul, also a Pashtun, fared less well but had strong support among government officials and urban elites.

Abdullah, who is half Pashtun and half Tajik, is more closely identified with the Tajiks, who dominate in the north but are less numerous than the Pashtuns. So a Rassoul-Abdullah runoff alliance, which was among those being discussed, could be potent if the two campaigns can negotiate such an agreement.

After the partial results were announced, Abdullah seemed in no mood to start celebrating.

“It’s the beginning of the counting process,” he said.

Election officials said turnout was expected to have topped 7 million voters and could end up around 7.5 million. Even if a million of those votes were disallowed because of fraud in some areas, it would still be a more impressive showing than the fraud-strewn 2009 election, which returned Karzai to power.

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