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Afghan Vote Audit Nears End; Runoff Likely?

A U.N.-backed commission in Afghanistan says it is close to concluding its investigation into possible widespread fraud during the country's Aug. 20 presidential election. The results could come as early as Saturday.

Afghan women cast their ballots at a local mosque used as a polling station August 20, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Above: Afghan women cast their ballots at a local mosque used as a polling station August 20, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A runoff election between incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his nearest challenger is likely, Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S. said Thursday in Washington.

However, officials in Kabul also say a resolution of the election could come in a loya jirga, a political assembly traditionally used in Afghanistan to decide political matters.

The four-member Elections Complaints Commission launched its investigation after hundreds of complaints of fraud rolled in following the election. The commission sampled a portion of ballots from more than 3,300 polling sites across most of Afghanistan.

Officials with the commission say the panel has completed the audit and is now analyzing the numbers and fine-tuning the results.

The unresolved election and evidence of massive fraud have complicated the Obama administration's deliberations over whether to commit thousands more troops to the war in Afghanistan. The U.S. strategy to bolster security in Afghanistan by, in part, strengthening its security forces relies on a legitimate government in Kabul.

Preliminary election results from the Aug. 20 poll gave Karzai a slim lead of 54.6 percent of the vote. But the commission could find there was enough fraud to push Karzai below the 50 percent mark and force a runoff election under the requirements of Afghanistan's Constitution.

Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S., Said Tayeb Jawad, said Thursday that a runoff vote was likely. He was the first official from Karzai's government to predict publicly that the challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, will have enough support to force a runoff. Abdullah, a former foreign minister, gained 28 percent of the vote in the August balloting.

In Kabul, there are signs that Karzai's government is preparing for that news. A runoff would be due within two weeks time, but many election officials say this would be difficult given the logistics of getting polling material and officials to some of the remote areas.

Jawad stressed that a runoff election should be held quickly. Should an election slip too far into November, winter weather would make it difficult for election officials to travel to remote parts of the country and voters would have difficulty reaching polling places.

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