EU observers: one third of Karzai votes suspicious

KABUL (Reuters) - A third of votes cast for Afghan incumbent Hamid Karzai in last month’s disputed presidential election are suspect and must be checked for fraud, the head of a European Union election observer mission said on Wednesday.

Phillippe Morillon told Reuters the observers believed 1.5 million votes were suspicious, including 1.1 million cast for Karzai and 300,000 cast for his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Afghanistan’s election commission is due to give a complete preliminary tally later on Wednesday, but that can still be overturned by a separate, U.N.-backed complaints body which has ordered a recount of about 10 percent of polling stations.

In near-complete figures issued last week, Karzai had slightly more than 3 million votes, or 54.3 percent of the 5.54 million valid votes counted.

Were all the votes described by Morillon as “suspicious” to be removed from that preliminary tally, Karzai would fall just short of the 50 percent needed to win in a single round and face a run-off against Abdullah.

Morillon said fraud had been carried out by “unscrupulous, overzealous supporters ... from every camp”, and that fraudulent ballots needed to be removed from the count before any result could be considered final.

“Any claim for any count or of victory will be premature and not credible,” he said.

Reporting by Golnar Motevalli; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Paul Tait