Afghan rivals claim poll victory

KABUL :The two leading contenders for Afghanistan’s presidential election have both claimed victory.

The campaign teams for incumbent Hamid Karzai and ex-Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah both said they had won an outright majority in yesterday’s poll.

Electoral officials say the ballot counting is now over and the official result will be announced soon, but warned against predicting the outcome.

They say initial results suggest turnout was between 40 and 50 per cent.

This is a lot lower than the 70 per cent that turned out to vote in the first presidential election, in 2004.

But observers have hailed this election a success, after voting passed off relatively peacefully amid threats of Taliban attacks. The UN said the vast majority of polling stations were able to function.

However, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said today that 11 people had been killed by insurgent attacks while trying to organise the election.

Allegations of ballot-box tampering and block voting are also threatening to overshadow the result. Abdullah Abdullah said he had complained to the electoral commission about alleged voting irregularities by supporters of Karzai in the southern province of Kandahar. Karzai has not commented on the claims.

And, in a sign of the ongoing difficulties facing the next president, the British government announced the deaths of two British soldiers, killed by an explosion while on routine foot patrol in Helmand province. The deaths happened yesterday but were not connected to the election, the Ministry of Defence said.

Deen Mohammad, the campaign chief for Hamid Karzai, said they predicted victory after reports from nearly 29,000 monitors they had at polling stations across the country.

“Initial results show that the president has got a majority,” he told Reuters news agency. “We will not go to a second round. We have got a majority.” But a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah was quick to play down the Karzai camp’s claims. Fazl Sangcharaki said the results from his observers at polling booths around the country suggested Abdullah Abdullah had won 63 per cent of the vote to Hamid Karzai’s 31 per cent.

“This is not a final result,” he told the AFP news agency. “We are still receiving more results from our people on the ground. We might be done by tomorrow.”

The 62,000 polling stations are required to make public the results as they count them, but Afghan election officials refused to confirm either candidates’ claims.

Instead, they asked the campaign teams to stay calm and refrain from speculating on the results.

“We cannot confirm any claims by campaigning

managers,” said Zekria Barakzai of the IEC. “It’s the job of the election commission to declare the results. They should be patient.”

Official results had not

been expected for a couple of weeks, but the IEC confirmed today that ballot counting

was over for the presidential election in all parts of the country and the result could come in the next few days.

Pre-election opinion

polls suggested Hamid Karzai was leading the field of 30

candidates, but might face a second round run-off with

Mr Abdullah.

If neither candidate wins

an outright majority of 50

per cent, then the vote is expected to go to a second round in October.

The IEC said that preliminary results suggest up to 50 per cent of the 17 million registered voters actually came out to vote — a significant drop from the 70 per cent of 10 million voters in 2004.

Barakzai said turnout was different from north to south, where the Taliban’s campaign of voter intimidation and attacks in its strongholds was believed to have had some effect.

Some people could have stayed at home because of disillusionment with the current administration of Hamid Karzai. People are unhappy that the changes they had expected have not happened — unemployment is still high and poverty still endemic.