Fraud Claims Taint Afghan President's Poll Lead

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Hamid Karzai has technically won re-election in Afghanistan's presidential election, but the result is fraught with controversy.

With 92 percent of the polling centers counted, Afghan election officials gave Karzai 54 percent of the vote.  His main rival Adbullah Abdullah got 28 percent.

Technically, this gives the incumbent president the necessary margin to avoid a run-off vote, but things are not that simple. 

Hours before the announcement, a U.N.-backed commission ordered a re-count of ballots claiming it found "clear and convincing" evidence of fraud.  That means Karzai could still have votes taken away from him.

"One thing that we saw in one ballot box was 1,700 ballot stubs in one ballot box, when there was only supposed to be 600 in there," said Grant Kippen of the Electoral Complaints Commission.

The commission plans to look at results from 600 polling stations where it suspected fraud.

"I think the important point to make here is that it is both an audit and a recount, and that we're also providing in this order the opportunity for observer and candidate agents to be involved in this process," Kippen added.

The August 20 vote was Afghanistan's only second direct presidential election.  Yet, with over 700 complaints of fraud registered and some 1 million votes in dispute, doubts are growing about the credibility of the election.

"If a leadership is imposed upon the people based on fraudulent elections what will happen?" Abdullah asked.  "What will happen to Afghanistan?"

The U.S. has viewed the election as a critical step to stabilizing the country and winning public support for the fight against the Taliban.

"The integrity of these elections is of upmost importance to Afghanistan and its international partners," said U.N. spokesman Alim Seddiqi.

The chargers of fraud could not have come at a more critical time for the Obama administration. 

In the coming weeks, the White House will have to weigh the political risks of sending more troops and money to the theater.  This comes as polls continue to show a sharp decline in public support for U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

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