Image: Afghan election workers count ballots.
Shah Marai  /  AFP - Getty Images
Election workers count ballot papers at a counting center in Kabul on Tuesday.
updated 10/26/2004 9:46:07 AM ET 2004-10-26T13:46:07

Counting in Afghanistan’s presidential election concluded Tuesday, with U.S.-backed interim leader Hamid Karzai the clear winner, a senior official said.

Earlier on Tuesday, a senior official said investigators have clear evidence of ballot box stuffing but not on a scale that would overturn Karzai’s victory.

The remarks were the clearest indication yet that the election board will acknowledge irregularities during the Oct. 9 election — the key condition set by Karzai’s closest rival for conceding defeat.

“Some boxes were so obviously stuffed that we don’t believe they were legitimately cast votes,” Ray Kennedy, the deputy chairman of the joint U.N.-Afghan electoral commission, told The Associated Press.

Hours later, investigators were still examining about 100 ballot boxes to clear up lingering fraud allegations, but the election’s chief technical officer said the count was effectively “over and done.”

“It’s just these last dribs and drabs to be approved,” David Avery told The Associated Press. “It’s really nothing that can affect the outcome.”

Election results could be announced this weekend. The winner will be inaugurated in about a month.

Final results were not posted on the election Web site. But in an earlier tally based on 97.7 percent of total votes cast, the U.S.-backed Karzai had 55.4 percent, which was 39 percentage points ahead of his closest challenger, former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni.

Karzai had to receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast to avoid a run-off and secure a five-year term.

The panel of three experts from Canada, Britain and Sweden was convened to head off an election boycott by Qanooni and 14 other candidates.

Qanooni has since said he would be willing to accept the election result if the panel first acknowledges there were problems in the voting. Third-placed ethnic Hazara chieftain Mohammed Mohaqeq, who has 11.6 percent, has also refused to concede.

Karzai has pledged to raise impoverished Afghans’ living standards after a quarter-century of fighting.

He has been the interim leader since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001 after a U.S. invasion. An election victory would make him Afghanistan’s first popularly chosen leader.

It also could provide a foreign policy boost to Afghanistan’s main sponsor, President Bush, in his own bid for re-election next week.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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