Hamid Karzai’s clash with the Afghan president’s western allies deepened on Wednesday, with his supporters saying it would take a “miracle” for UN-backed fraud investigators to deprive him of an outright victory in presidential elections.
The triumphant tone struck by Mr Karzai’s campaign team after preliminary results released by Afghan election officials showed he had won 54.6 per cent of the vote came hours after European Union observers said more than 1m votes for Mr Karzai were suspect.
The EU’s claim adds to a deluge of fraud allegations that has prompted an electoral complaints commission, partly appointed by the UN, to order a recount of results from one in 10 polling stations – which could overturn Mr Karzai’s lead.
Waheed Omer, chief spokesman for Mr Karzai’s campaign, said he was confident that the president would retain the more than 50 per cent he needs to avoid a run-off with Abdullah Abdullah, his main challenger, who has 27.8 per cent of the vote.
“It’s going to be a miracle – and a very drastic change in the process – if these results are going to go below 50 per cent,” Mr Omer told the Financial Times. “We don’t see that there will be a drastic decrease in the votes [for Mr Karzai].”
Mr Omer also rejected the EU’s claim that 1.1m votes cast for Mr Karzai were suspect, branding their statement as “irresponsible” and contrary to the Afghan constitution. The observers also said 300,000 votes for Mr Abdullah were dubious.
With counting now complete, the Independent Election Commission’s preliminary figures said Mr Karzai won 3.09m votes against 1.57m for Mr Abdullah. But the results cannot be finalised until fraud investigations are complete.
Although Mr Karzai’s team stopped short of claiming victory and said it would respect the recount, Mr Omer’s comments will raise hackles among western allies, who are banking on the audit to restore a measure of credibility to elections marred by evidence of huge rigging.
Diplomats said Mr Karzai achieved the simple majority he needed to win in the first round only after the IEC, whose senior officers are appointed by him, decided to include many suspect votes.
The increasingly tense relationship between Mr Karzai and his allies might hinder attempts by Washington and Europe to prevent the electoral dispute sparking a political crisis, at a time when Barack Obama, the US president, faces a fraught decision on whether to send more troops to the conflict.
Evidence that security forces and electoral officials conspired to steal votes has threatened to polarise the president’s supporters in the south against northern minorities who back Mr Abdullah, raising fears of unrest.
Although the recount process could in theory force a second round, the enormous logistical and security challenges of holding another poll, which may be possible only after winter snows melt next spring, would be a huge burden for the west.
Diplomats were quietly sounding out opposition and government on the possibility of brokering some form of coalition to avert a protracted power struggle. “There’s no option other than a coalition,” said Waheed Mojda, an expert on Afghan politics in Kabul. “American and other western diplomats want to encourage Abdullah to join Karzai.”
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