Complaints of Afghan election fraud pour in

KABUL Fri Aug 28, 2009 3:41pm EDT

1 of 9. An Afghan woman counts ballot papers after polling stations close at a polling center in Herat, western Afghanistan, August 20, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Raheb Homavandi

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission has received more than 2,000 complaints of fraud or abuse in last week's disputed presidential election, with 270 now listed as serious enough to affect the result, it said on Friday.

More than a week after the election, Afghanistan remains in a state of political limbo, with authorities having published results from just 17 percent of polling stations, giving inconclusive figures.

President Hamid Karzai's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, has complained about fraud and said he would not accept the result if large-scale abuse was found to have played a decisive role.

The complaints commission, which was partly appointed by the United Nations and includes Afghan and foreign members, said more allegations from polling day are still arriving. The numbers of serious complaints reported on Friday were far higher than it had listed in the initial days after the voting took place.

It has received 2,207 complaints, including 1,740 since polling day. It has so far categorized 984 of the complaints, and listed 270 as Category A, "which, if proved valid, could have material effects on the results", it said in a statement.

"Received complaints vary. They include allegations of ballot stuffing, poor quality ink, intimidation and accusations against polling staff."

Partial results released so far show Karzai leading with 44.8 percent, with Abdullah winning 35.1 percent. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, a run-off must be held between the two top candidates.

Although the results so far suggest a run-off would be needed, it is still too early to predict the eventual outcome. Many provinces in the south -- where Karzai draws much of his support but fraud allegations are widest and turnout was most affected by Taliban threats -- have yet to be tallied.

Taliban fighters threatened to disrupt the poll and launched rocket attacks across the country on polling day, especially in the south. Those attacks failed to halt the election itself, but do seem to have dampened turnout, especially in the south.

The complete preliminary results are due on September 3, with another two weeks for complaints to be investigated before the final outcome is announced. A second round if needed should be held two weeks later, presumably October 1, though dates can change.

The initial tallies suggest only about 5.5 million Afghans voted, a disappointing figure in a country with about 30 million people and an estimated 15 million eligible voters

Pour turnout in the violent south could increase the chance of a run-off, by restricting votes cast for Karzai by his fellow Pashtuns.

Endemic government corruption and Karzai's close ties with former militia leaders have eroded his support, both with the Afghan people and with Washington policymakers.

(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here)

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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