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Karzai all but clinches victory as rival concedes

President Hamid Karzai has all but clinched victory in Afghanistan’s historic presidential poll as his main rival conceded defeat even before election workers began counting the final votes on Monday.
U.N. workers check the validity of ballot papers at a counting center in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday.Emilio Morenatti / AP
/ Source: news services

Hamid Karzai was assured Monday of a majority in Afghanistan’s election to become its first democratically chosen president, and a top foreign envoy said the poll reflected the will of the people.

With nearly 95 percent of ballots counted, Karzai already has more than half the total estimated 8.1 million votes cast — enough to avoid a runoff, even if all the remaining votes go to his 17 opponents.

But he has yet to be declared the winner as a panel of foreign experts was still reviewing allegations of electoral fraud leveled by other candidates. The panel does not expect to finalize its report until the end of the week, said Craig Jenness, a Canadian lawyer on the panel.

The joint U.N.-Afghan electoral commission has said it will not announce the official results of the Oct. 9 ballot until the fraud investigations are complete.

Irregularities probed
The top European envoy to Afghanistan said Monday that although there were irregularities — including problems with ink used to prevent multiple voting — it was not serious enough to change the outcome.

“There were some flaws, the ink most obviously,” Francesc Vendrell, the European Union’s special representative, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. “But I very much doubt they would affect the actual outcome of the vote.

“The vote pretty accurately reflects what the people feel,” he said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks to journalists with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (not pictured) at the presidential palace in Kabul October 11, 2004. REUTERS/Caren FirouzCaren Firouz / X01067

Karzai’s campaign team has said he is certain of victory in the first round of voting. He currently has 4,240,041 votes, or 55.3 percent, 39 percentage points ahead of his chief rival, former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni.

Qanooni is willing to accept the outcome, provided the panel acknowledges there were irregularities.

“For the national interest and so the country does not go into crisis, we will respect the result of the election,” his spokesman Syed Hamid Noori said late Sunday. “But we also want the fraud to be made clear.”

Ethnic Hazara chieftain Mohammed Mohaqeq, running third at 11.8 percent, refused to concede. “It’s too early to judge the result now,” he told AP.

The camp of another main rival, ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, currently fourth with 10.3 percent, also said it too was waiting for the result of the investigation.

Victory would make Karzai Afghanistan’s first popularly chosen leader after a quarter century of war and give him a five-year term in which he has pledged to raise the pitiful living standards.

It could also provide a foreign policy boost to Afghanistan’s main sponsor, President Bush, in his own bid for re-election on Nov. 2.

Karzai has become a familiar figure on the world stage since becoming the country’s interim leader after U.S. forces drove out the former ruling Taliban regime in late 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden.

At home, he has rounded up strong support in the cities and among fellow Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group. But Afghans are also frustrated at the slow pace of reconstruction.

His rivals have scored big among ethnic minorities in the north and center of the country, a legacy of the ethnic and factional divides produced by years of infighting.

“I don’t think it’s good to criticize the election further, as it could bring the country to crisis. We respect the will of the people,” said outsider candidate Homayoon Shah Asifi.

“If Karzai wins, I will congratulate him. But if Karzai fails, the country will be in trouble.”

Polling day passed without major violence, prompting American commanders and Afghan politicians to write off the Taliban — which had threatened to sabotage the vote — as a fading force.

Their euphoria received a damper on Saturday when a purported Taliban suicide attacker detonated grenades in a busy shopping street in Kabul, killing an American woman and an Afghan girl, and injuring three Icelandic peacekeepers.