KABUL, Afghanistan — A top United Nations official acknowledged publicly for the first time on Sunday that the country’s presidential election had been marred by “widespread fraud,” but said he has worked to ensure that the irregularities get documented.
Flanked by the ambassadors to the United States, Britain, France and Germany at a news conference, Kai Eide, the top United Nations official here, affirmed that the Aug. 20 election was tainted but insisted that he had pursued all claims of fraud that he was able to verify
“There was widespread fraud, but any specific figure would be pure speculation,” he said.
His remarks were intended to rebuff allegations by his former deputy that he was covering up fraud to benefit President Hamid Karzai. The deputy, the American diplomat Peter Galbraith, was fired this month after making his accusation public.
An initial vote count gave the election to Mr. Karzai, but details emerging unofficially from the audit by the Independent Election Commission suggest that a second round of voting will likely be required to determine the winner.
“We’re now at a critical juncture,” Mr. Eide said. “In the past two days we’ve put very solid mechanisms in place to make sure the process goes correctly.”
Mr. Karzai on Sunday sharply criticized what he said was foreign interference in Afghan affairs. He defended Mr. Eide, but said that “foreign propaganda” was responsible for holding up the election process.
“There are outsider circles that have interfered in our election and are still interfering,” he told reporters in Kabul, after meeting the Japanese foreign minister.
Mr. Karzai did not specify what the interference was or who was doing it. Calls to his office for clarification were not returned.
The preliminary tally gave Mr. Karzai 54.6 percent vote the vote, comfortably above the 50 percent required to win the election outright, but the audit, which will deduct fraudulent votes from each candidate, could reduce his margin, triggering a runoff.
Mr. Karzai’s main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, who had observers in the recount process, said in an interview on Friday that he was certain the recount would result in a runoff.
“We’re going to a second round,” he said.
A five-member committee, in which foreign experts have the deciding vote, is now reviewing an audit of 358 ballot boxes, and is expected to say this week whether a runoff will be required.
An Afghan businessmen with knowledge of the process but who spoke on condition of anonymity said the fraud was so pervasive that a runoff is a foregone conclusion.
But many here fear a second round is becoming impossible with the passage of time. Winter will soon descend on northern Afghanistan, and the deteriorating security in the south could drag down voter turnout. The businessman said he expected a coalition government to take shape, with some kind of agreement before a runoff vote takes place that would give Mr. Abdullah some ministries.
But it is far from clear that Mr. Karzai, who would most likely win in a second round, would agree to that scenario.
In another sign that Mr. Karzai has grown increasingly isolated from his foreign backers, particularly the United States, he said the government was investigating claims that foreign officials here long considered to be an ill-founded rumor: that foreign helicopters transported militants to northern Afghanistan to destabilize the area.
“This effort is going on in a mysterious way,” he said. “Our investigation is ongoing — whose helicopters are they and to which foreign countries do they belong?”
Also Sunday, coalition forces said they killed more than a dozen militants in eastern Afghanistan, after searching a compound in the mountains that they said had been used by a Qaeda operative to house foreign fighters. The forces found a weapons cache, and were fired on twice as they searched the area, according to a military statement.
One American soldier was killed in a bomb strike on Oct. 10, the military said.The Associated Press