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U.S./World

Karzai on cusp of re-election

| Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan — As vote tallies keep dribbling out from Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election, it appears increasingly likely that President Hamid Karzai will reach the 50 percent plus one vote that he needs to win re-election.

But what will happen after that is far from clear, and tension and suspicion have mounted as the vote count drags on amid widening charges of electoral fraud. Afghans are confused, jittery and bracing for street violence — or at least a protracted period of political polarization and drift.

Legally, the internationally led Electoral Complaints Commission will have the last word on whether the fraud was extensive enough to change the results, but its investigations could go on for weeks after the official tally is announced. That leaves open the possibility of a delayed runoff between Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, or even nullification of the election.

"I think it's clear Karzai has won, but that doesn't resolve the crisis we are facing," said Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies. "The ultimate goal here is to stabilize the country and defeat the Taliban. If we don't come out of this election with a legitimate and strong government, it could have a major impact on both Afghanistan and on the entire NATO effort here."

Karzai's lead over Abdullah, his former foreign minister, has widened to about 46 to 32 percent, with nearly half the vote counted.

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