Afghan President Hamid Karzai has strongly denied that major electoral fraud took place in Afghanistan's presidential and provincial-council elections last month, saying that if there was fraud, "it was small -- it happens all over the world."
Speaking at a news conference on September 17 in Kabul, Karzai also urged foreign allies to allow the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) and UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) to investigate allegations of vote-rigging "without interference."
"That's what I'm seeking -- a respect for that [election] day and respect for the bravery of the Afghan people to come and vote," Karzai said. "Of course, fraud, and if it is committed, it has to be investigated, but investigated fairly and without prejudice."
The comments come a day after the IEC declared the incumbent president the preliminary winner of last month's poll while EU observers alleged massive fraud.
According to the IEC, complete preliminary results from the August 20 poll show President Karzai received 54.6 percent of the vote -- enough to be reelected in the first round.
His main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, garnered almost 28 percent.
An IEC official, Daud Najafi, told a news conference on September 16 in Kabul that turnout was just under 39 percent, or 5.9 million voters.
Interference, pressure has always been there. These pressures were applied well before the elections, during the elections, and after the elections
The results are not final until they are approved by a separate election fraud watchdog, which has called for a recount of about 10 percent of polling stations.
In addition, some Karzai administration officials say that the winner -- presumably Karzai -- will be saddled with an unworkable power-sharing arrangement crafted and imposed by Western governments. 'Suspicious' Votes
Earlier on September 16, the EU Election Observation Mission to Afghanistan said around 1.5 million votes cast in the elections were “suspicious,” including 1.1 million votes cast for Karzai and 300,000 for Abdullah.
Dimitra Ioannou, the deputy head of the mission, told reporters in Kabul that massive fraud had taken place at some polling stations.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul, the chief EU observer, Philippe Morillon, urged Afghan authorities to investigate the allegations.
"We tried to deter the massive fraud. We did not succeed. Now, we confirm that there has been massive fraud, and we ask the Afghan authorities to investigate before [certifying] the results," Morillon said.
Karzai's campaign team quickly retaliated, calling the announcement "partial, irresponsible, and in contradiction with Afghanistan's constitution."
In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, Information and Culture Minister Abdul Karim Khurram went a step further.
Khurram accused Western powers of trying to manipulate the process, putting pressure on Karzai’s government to accept a power-sharing arrangement with his rivals.
"The purpose of this pressure is to have a weak and dependent government that cannot stand on its own feet," Khurram said.Accusations Of Pressure
Khurram alleged the plan had been devised months ago.
As an example, Khurram said that during Karzai’s last visit to the United States in May, “discussions arose about establishing a board of chief executives” alongside the government.
He suggested that “some individuals were named” to be assigned to positions of authority over areas like security and the economy within the new administration.
Khurram said at the time that the possibility of establishing a coalition government and authorizing “certain committees to oversee it” was also mentioned.
Khurram insisted that Western interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs was nothing new but he said the current administration in Kabul intended to resist it.
"Interference, pressure has always been there. This is not a situation of today. These pressures were applied well before the elections, during the elections, and after the elections," Khurram said.
Khurram’s statements mark another escalation in the anti-Western rhetoric coming from the Karzai administration following the election.
There was no immediate foreign reaction to his allegations.