The former World Bank technocrat Ashraf Ghani has a million-vote lead in preliminary results from Afghanistan’s presidential poll – but election organisers warned that with more fraud checks pending there was no winner yet.

Afghanistan has been plunged into crisis about who will take over from Hamid Karzai next month, after fraud accusations stained an election initially hailed as a triumph for the country’s fledgling democracy.

Yusuf Nuristani, the chairman of Afghanistan’s independent election commission, announced an unexpectedly high turnout of more than eight million voters in the June runoff vote, up by more than 20% from the first round of the election in April.

But he warned that security, government and election officials had all been caught trying to skew the election, while some media outlets had presented partisan pundits as impartial analysts.

“We can’t deny there have been fraud and violations in the runoff,” Nuristani said at a news conference delayed for more than four hours while the two candidates argued over rules for further checks on fraud.

“The announcement of preliminary results doesn’t mean that a winner has been declared. After the scrutiny, audit and investigation of all complaints, change is possible.” The results put Ghani in the lead, as both teams had expected. The number of voters who backed him more than doubled from the first round, to 4.5 million, or 56% of all valid ballots. The dispute that has paralysed the country since the euphoria of a relatively safe election day first dissipated is how he came by such a commanding victory.

The US urged caution.”We have seen today’s announcement of preliminary results and note that these figures are not final or authoritative and may not predict the final outcome, which could still change based on the findings of the Afghan electoral bodies. Serious allegations of fraud have been raised and have yet to be adequately investigated,” a State Department spokeswoman said.

Abdullah Abdullah, the former mujahideen doctor who faced off against Ghani, claims that two million of the ballots cast for his rival are fake. He has officially withdrawn from the vote-counting process, demanding stricter auditing of potentially suspicious votes, and pushed hard for the release of results to be delayed.

He has also published audio tapes he claims show a top election official conspiring to stuff ballot boxes for Ghani, using a crude code of “stuffed sheep”. The man Abdullah said was captured on the tapes stepped down but protested his innocence, saying he had resigned only in the interests of national unity.

The increase in support for Ghani between the first and second rounds was dramatic. In central Wardak province 10 times as many voters came to the polls to back him, while in southern Kandahar voter support was six times higher than in the first round. Other provinces saw tripling or quadrupling of ballots cast for him… see more

source: Guardian UK