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Top Candidates Both Claim First-Round Victory In Afghan Poll

Afghan election workers count votes at a polling station in Kabul. Official preliminary results are expected on September 3 and final results are expected to be released on September 17.
(RFE/RL) -- The top two candidates in Afghanistan's presidential poll, incumbent President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, have both claimed outright victory, casting a shadow on an election that has been warmly greeted by the West.

Just after polls closed on August 20, Karzai lauded the Afghan people for coming out to vote despite the Taliban's threats to use violence to disrupt the election.

"The Afghan people dared rockets, bombs, and intimidation and suicide bombs, and came out to vote," Karzai said. "Despite this, the people took part in the election."

Early on August 21, Karzai's campaign office touted its own success, saying the incumbent had received enough votes to win to secure a first-round victory.

"Based on information we received from our campaign offices and voting sites, I can say for sure that we are in the lead," dpa quoted the head of Karzai's campaign office, Hajji Din Mohammad Mohammad, as saying.

"Our figures show that we have enough votes to win, so no need for a second round of voting."

President Hamid Karzai has claimed victory...
The question going into election day was whether Karzai would be able to receive the outright majority needed to avoid a potentially risky runoff with the second-place finisher.

The camp of former Foreign Minister Abdullah, the rival given the best chance of challenging Karzai, countered by claiming its own first-round win.

Sayed Aqa Fazil Sancharaki, a spokesman for Abdullah, told various media outlets that figures provided by the campaign's monitor were giving Abdullah about 62-63 percent of the vote, compared to 31-32 percent for Karzai.

Sancharaki also told "The Times" of London on August 21 that the campaign's early assessment did not include results from the provinces of Kandahar, Ghazni, and Wardak, three majority ethnic-Pashtun provinces that have a heavy Taliban presence.

Election Complaints

Within hours after polls closed, Abdullah's campaign had alleged that large-scale fraud had taken place in at least three of the country's 34 provinces.

Abdullah himself echoed the allegations of voting irregularities during a press conference in Kabul on August 20, but said at the time that he did not expect the overall result to be skewed.

"It is unfortunate that government officials with eight years of experience, unfortunately, interfered in a big way in the process of the elections in some parts of the country," Abdullah said. "But despite all this, I am sure the people's vote will reflect the results of the elections."

Another top candidate on voting day called on authorities to stop the election, claiming he was able to wash off the indelible ink used to mark voters fingers to prevent multiple voting. has Abdullah Abdullah.
In the wake of the victory claims by the top two candidates, the Independent Election Commission called for patience and said it was too early to determine a victor.

"No one can be declared the winner before the official result is announced by us," commission spokesman Nur Mohammad Nur was quoted as saying.

A deputy officer of the Election Commission indicated that initial results would start coming out early next week. Official preliminary results are expected on September 3 and final results are expected to be released on September 17.

International Praise

The United Nations Security Council, as well as the United States, NATO, and other Western backers welcomed the August 20 poll, in which seats for provincial councils were also contested.

"We are continuing to ramp up the pressure in Afghanistan, and we had what appears to be a successful election in Afghanistan despite the Taliban's effort to disrupt it," U.S. President Barack Obama said in Washington.

The United Nations Security Council issued a statement congratulating Afghans for their participation in the vote, and condemning the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups for attempting to disrupt the elections.