KABUL (AP) - President Hamid Karzai surpassed for the first time the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a run-off in Afghanistan's presidential election, according to preliminary results released Tuesday, but with fraud allegations rising, a U.N.-backed commission ordered a re-count of tainted ballots.
The chief electoral officer of the Afghan-run Independent Election Commission, Daoud Ali Najafi, said that recounting votes could take "two or three months," meaning the already over-extended election is likely far from over.
With results in from almost 92 percent of the country's polling sites, Karzai has 54.1 percent of the votes, pushing him over the threshold that would allow him to declare victory outright and avoid a run-off with his main challenger. Abdullah Abdullah.
As more results have come in from the south, where Karzai's support is strong, former foreign minister Abdullah's standing has slipped dramatically. He now has 28.3 percent of the vote.
But doubts are growing about the credibility of the election, seen as critical to the Western-backed efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and win public support for the fight against the Taliban insurgency.
The Afghan-run election commission has already quarantined ballots from more than 600 polling stations ruled to have been spoiled or tainted by fraud, out of more than 26,000 polling stations. The results announced Tuesday discount those ballots, but the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission will investigate and determine their validity.
Separately, the Electoral Complaints Commission - a separate U.N.-backed body charged with investigating the vote - ordered a re-count Tuesday at polling stations where it had found "convincing evidence" of fraud," meaning Karzai could still have votes taken away from him. More than 720 major fraud charges have been lodged with the complaints commission.
Results were not to have been officially certified until late September, but Najafi's statement that re-counts could take months puts that timeframe into question.
Western officials say ballots have been submitted from hundreds of fake voting sites, especially across southern Afghanistan. The election commission has tallied dozens of voting sites where Karzai won neatly rounded blocks of ballots - 200, 300 and 500 votes - results that one Western official labeled "illogical."