Afghan body to rule on vote fraud

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) is said to be close to ruling on largescale fraud in the country's disputed presidential poll unearthed by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Comission (ECC).

Officials said the IEC is assessing the findings on Tuesday, a day after the ECC said that nearly a third of ballots cast in favour of Hamid Karzai, the incumbent president, on August 20 were fraudulent.

"Our commissioners are meeting now to discuss the figures sent by the ECC and will announce a final decision today," Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesperson for the IEC said.

If the suspect votes are ruled as void, Karzai would have less than the required 50 per cent result to avoid a run-off againt his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minster.

That would leave the rival sides with two weeks to decide whether to strike a unity deal or proceed to a run-off vote.

Karzai, who had earlier proclaimed victory in the poll, is also expected to give his reaction to the ECC's findings later on Tuesday.

ECC criticism

Karzai's camp has already criticised the ECC and some fear that the Karzai-influenced election commission may refuse to call a run-off, further delaying formation of a government.

A run-off would have to be held before Afghanistan's harsh winter sets in, making security and logistical arrangements for a vote impossible.

The ECC on Monday said that voting at 210 polling stations should be discarded, and that that decision was binding.

Preliminary results last month had showed Karzai winning the election with more than 54 per cent of the vote to Abdullah's 28 per cent, but allegations of massive fraud prompted the ECC investigation.

The election deadlock has also complicated a major US review of its policy in Afghanistan, where it is fighting the Taliban.

The US is considering a request by General Stanley McChrystal, the top US and Nato ground commander, to commit an extra 40,000 troops in order to step up its operations there.

But Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff to the US president, has suggested that the US may not commit more troops to Afghanistan until a "credible and legitimate" government is in place. [adm/aljazeera]

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