Abdullah Abdullah has alledged fraud in the Afghanistan elections, preliminary results are expected tomorrow. (Photo: Shah Marai / Getty Images)
Claims of vote fraud are growing within Afghanistan, and outside observers have expressed serious concerns. But there are fears that an early tally would just inflame tensions.
Kabul, Afghanistan - Amid mounting allegations of fraud in last week's presidential elections, election officials pledged today to provide preliminary results of the vote on Tuesday.
However, the partial tally and turnout figures, to be based on reports from about three-quarters of the 6,500 polling stations, may serve to inflame tensions rather than ease them. Some observers fear the disclosure of a preliminary tally could set off clashes between rival camps.
Aides to the two leading contenders, President Hamid Karzai and his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, each have said they have independent information suggesting their candidate is in the lead. Their campaigns, along with those of several other candidates, also have complained vociferously of vote-rigging and intimidation.
Abdullah has said repeatedly that if Karzai is found to have won a majority of the vote -- which the Afghan leader would need for a first-round victory -- it would be the result of fraud. If no candidate garners more than 50%, the race will go to a runoff between the top two vote getters.
In recent days, outside observers have stopped short of describing the vote as unfair but have expressed serious concern about factors including the low turnout in some parts of the country, the stifling of participation by women, reports of ballot-box stuffing and complaints that, in some locales, gunmen ordered people to vote for a particular candidate.
Senior Western officials, too, appeared to be backing away from initial characterizations of the election as successful based mainly on the fact that, after weeks of threats and attacks, the Taliban proved unable to halt or seriously disrupt Thursday's vote.
Kai Eide, head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, said holding the election in relative safety had been an "important achievement" but appealed to all sides for patience while independent monitors investigated fraud allegations.
"There's no doubt that there have been irregularities during polling," Eide said today.
Discord was breaking out as well between the bodies set up to conduct and monitor the vote.
At a news conference today, Zekria Barakzai, the deputy head of the Independent Election Commission, denied that complaints lodged with monitors so far were numerous enough and serious enough to affect the overall outcome.
A day earlier, the Electoral Complaints Commission, which will certify the vote after checking reports of irregularities, said about four dozen of the hundreds of complaints it had received were serious enough to affect the outcome if the allegations contained in them were true.
At the same time, some outside observers have cast doubt on the independence of the election commission, which was appointed by Karzai, saying its officials acted at times in a way that gave the incumbent an unfair advantage.
The vote ushered in what could be weeks of political uncertainty. A final tally is not expected to be certified until mid- to late September, and a runoff, if there is one, would be held in October.
The weeks leading up to the election were violent, exacting a heavy toll in both civilian and military lives. Today, Western military officials disclosed the deaths of three more coalition troops, one of them an American who died in an attack Sunday.
The other two were Estonians, killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan's dangerous south.