Karzai and Abdullah Both Claim Victory in Afghan Elections

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The Guardian/UK

Karzai and Abdullah Both Claim Victory in Afghan Elections

by
Jon Boone in Kabul

Afghanistan workers at a polling centre in Kabul. (Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

Despite calls by the US for the leading candidates in Afghanistan's election not to claim victory, both Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah said they won yesterday's vote.

Although
the first early official results are not expected until Saturday or
even Sunday, both campaign teams claimed they were ahead, with
President Karzai's staff saying he had taken a majority of votes,
making a second round run-off unnecessary.

Abdullah's spokesman, Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki, said the former foreign minister was ahead with 62% of the vote.

Pajwok,
an Afghan news agency that began last night to collate unofficial
results published by individual polling centres, said the two
candidates were "virtually in a dead heat", with Abdullah doing best in
the provinces immediately north of Kabul and Karzai grabbing votes in
the south and east.

The US had hoped to avoid such speculation
and the secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, announced three days before
the poll that she expected people to "refrain from speculation until
results are announced". Fearing that disputes between candidates could
turn ugly, she called on "candidates and their supporters to behave
responsibly".

Foreign election observers also urged caution,
saying a poll conducted in virtual combat zones in some parts of the
country was particularly hard to analyse.

The country's deputy chief electoral officer, Zekria Barakzai, called on candidates to await the official results.

He
said turnout was between 40% and 50%, far lower than the 70% of voters
who took part in Afghanistan's first presidential election in 2004.
Figures on regional turnouts will be eagerly awaited as expected low
turnout in the south could eat into Karzai's support.

According
to the official timetable of events, preliminary results are not due
until 3 September, with the final certified results coming in two weeks
later.

That will give election officials time to investigate
widespread allegations of fraud. The campaign team of Ashraf Ghani,
another leading candidate, said they were particularly worried about
reports of ballot box stuffing in areas in the south where election
observers were unable to visit.

Suspiciously high turnouts of
women in the south will also be scrutinised as huge numbers of fake
voter registration cards in the name of women are known to be in
circulation.

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