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Karzai Appears Winner of Afghan Elections  - 2004-10-25

With more than 95 percent of the ballots counted in Afghanistan's first presidential election, transitional leader Hamid Karzai appears to have more than enough votes to win.

Preliminary results as of Monday give transitional President Hamid Karzai a commanding 55 percent of the votes counted so far.

The total puts him far ahead of his closest rival, former Education Minister Younus Qanooni, who has just over 16 percent of the tallied votes.

The partial count also gives Mr. Karzai more than the approximately 4.2 million votes he needs to claim an outright victory, without having to undergo a run-off election.

A spokesman for the president, Khaleeq Ahmed, says despite Mr. Karzai's apparent win, he will wait until the final results are announced before declaring victory.

"We are very [over]joyed that we have the secure majority now. We will celebrate and declare our victory once 100 percent of the vote has been counted," said Khaleeq Ahmed.

Mr. Qanooni's office said Monday that earlier reports the candidate had conceded the race are not true, adding that he is still awaiting results of an investigation into possible election fraud.

Following the October 9th vote, a number of opposition candidates filed complaints with the election commission. They claimed that some voters may have cast multiple ballots, while others may have been coerced into voting for the president.

The election commission has set up a panel of international experts to look into the claims, and says it will not announce the final results until the investigations conclude.

Senior Afghanistan analyst for the non-profit International Crisis Group, Vikram Parekh, says the commission probe will probably not affect the outcome.

But he says the investigation is a vital exercise in transparency in a nation that has not had an open election in decades.

"I think that it's very unlikely that the elections would be invalidated," said Vikram Parekh. "But I do think that it's important in terms of the precedent that it sets for future elections and how allegations of irregularities are addressed."

He says that even Afghans who voted for Mr. Karzai and are eager to see him win favor the investigation, in the interest of fairness.

Afghanistan is slated to hold its first post-war parliamentary elections next year, and Mr. Parekh says such investigations could well be needed after that vote as well.