Karzai lead slightly narrowed: EC

KABUL: Incumbent Hamid Karzai on Monday slightly narrowed his lead over his main rival in the race for the Afghan presidency in the latest partial results unveiled by the country's election commission.

Total results released so far come from around 47.8 percent of polling stations used in Afghanistan's only second direct presidential election, which was held on August 20 and has been overshadowed by claims of massive fraud.

Karzai won 1.3 million votes and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah 954,256, Daud Ali Najafi, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC), told a news conference.

The figures give Karzai 45.8 percent of votes announced and Abdullah 33.2 percent, according to the IEC website.

The commission website previously handed Karzai a lead of 46.2 percent and his main rival 31.4.

Popular Kabul lawmaker Ramazan Bashardost, who camps out in a tent near parliament and campaigned against corruption, attracted 359,214 votes and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani 62,536 votes, Najafi added.

The IEC website gave Bashardost 12.5 percent of the vote. Ghani, who was once fingered as a possible UN secretary general and ran an issue-driven campaign, has so far only managed to secure 2.2 percent.

The results are being released gradually by the IEC, which has said that preliminary results will known between September 3 and 7. The final tally is not due until September 17.

With close to half the polling stations counted, it was "still too close and too early to call," said Nader Nadery, of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan.

The victor needs 50 percent plus one vote. Both Karzai and Abdullah claimed early victory, but the results appear to show that they are taking votes in regions outside their strongholds.

The IEC said that figures reflected 2,869,562 valid votes, in an election that has been overshadowed by allegations of fraud and ballot-stuffing.

Held amid a vicious Taliban campaign of intimidation aimed at keeping voters away from polling stations, the election is expected to face questions about the legitimacy of the final result as turnout appears to be just 30-35 percent.