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Karzai leads narrowly in early results

Hamid Karzai has a narrow lead over his main rival in Afghanistan's presidential election, early results show.

Afghan men unload ballot boxes from a truck at the Independent Election Commission in Kabul.
Afghan men unload ballot boxes from a truck at the Independent Election Commission in Kabul.

KABUL // Hamid Karzai has a narrow lead over his main rival in Afghanistan's presidential election, early results show. With 10 per cent of ballots counted, the incumbent has 212,927 votes. His closest challenger, the former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, has 202,889, it was declared yesterday.

The results came amid further signs of the deteriorating security situation. A suicide car bomb ripped through the heart of the troubled southern city of Kandahar last night, killing up to 36 people and wounding more than 50, hours after four US soldiers were killed by a bomb blast in the south of the country. When the presidential and provincial council elections were held last week they were hailed as a success by the US, EU and UN. However, the political fallout is already proving to be bitter and potentially volatile.

Before yesterday's announcement, it was rumoured Mr Karzai had a lead of almost 70 per cent and was all but guaranteed victory. The first results to come from the Independent Election Commission paint a different picture, showing the incumbent with 40.6 per cent of the vote and Mr Abdullah with 38.7 per cent. A long way behind in third and fourth place respectively are Ramazan Bashardost and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, both ex-government ministers.

As news of the count filtered in, Afghans warned that whoever ultimately triumphed would have to overcome a number of unenviable challenges if the country was to be pulled back from the brink. Mohammed Yasin Abassi, a father of five from Logar province, said Mr Karzai must end the war with the Taliban and overhaul his government if he wins. "Karzai is a good person, but the people around him are very bad. They are a mafia and all corrupt.

"If he is re-elected there are three issues he must address that are important: the economy, security and corruption. The drugs trade is another. He must also completely change his cabinet and remove all his ministers," he said. Despite the praise it has received from the international community, huge doubts continue to surround last week's vote. Turnout is believed to have been much lower than in the 2004 presidential election and hundreds of claims of fraud and irregularities are being investigated by the Electoral Complaints Commission.

Mr Abdullah has repeatedly alleged that Mr Karzai's team stuffed ballot boxes, while others have pointed the finger at both front-runners. Six outside contenders, including Mr Ahmadzai, issued a statement yesterday saying the sheer number of accusations meant, "many are seriously questioning the legitimacy and credibility of the results". It went on to say that fraud could cause "increased tension and violence" and "questions must be answered".

The two-month campaign leading up to the vote was notable for the way the two main candidates chose to approach it. Mr Karzai struck back room deals with some of Afghanistan's most prominent warlords and said the country had made significant progress under his leadership. Meanwhile, Mr Abdullah held a series of nationwide rallies with the message that political change was needed and continually reminded people of his role in the jihad against Soviet occupation.

Speaking after yesterday's results were announced, Mohammed Nader said he was unimpressed by the promises of both men and had chosen not to take part in the election. "No one can bring change in this country, so why should I vote?" said Mr Nader, 53, who comes from Panjshir, the home province of Mr Abdullah and Mr Karzai's running mate for first vice president, Mohammed Qasim Fahim. "If Karzai wins again the poor people will still be here and he will be in his palace. We don't have guns to stand against him," he said.

"I don't know what democracy is. The Taliban say we have to accept the Sharia and these guys say we have to accept their law. What's the meaning of all this?" The Independent Election Commission is set to release further results soon, but a final tally is not due until some time in September, after all the votes have been counted and 225 allegations of fraud have been addressed. If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent, a runoff will be required. Few votes have so far been counted in the south of country, where Mr Karzai is expected to have relatively strong support.

Mohammed Rahim Sherzad, a shopkeeper from the eastern province of Nangarhar, said the next president must sit down and talk with the insurgents if the violence was to end. "The foreigners should stop killing people and raiding houses at night," he said. "There should be negotiations with the Taliban because they are also from this country, they are also Muslims and they are our brothers." @Email:csands@thenational.ae