KABUL, Afghanistan Sept. 16, 2009— -- With 100 percent of Afghanistan's polling stations reported, the Independent Election Commission announced today that President Hamid Karzai has been reelected president with 54.6 percent of the vote, avoiding the need for a second round runoff.
That statement may not settle the election, however. The tally by the IEC is a preliminary count and the Electoral Complaints Commission has ordered a massive recount of at least 10 percent of all votes cast.
The ECC, which is dominated by international monitors, must certify the vote before it can become a final and that is at least weeks away.
The longer the counting of the votes takes, the more questions about the legitimacy of the election.
For the past two weeks Western observers have been quietly suggesting that as many as 1 million votes were fraudulent, but today the European Union monitors officially declared that 1.5 million votes appear fraudulent, including 1.1 million for Karzai.
If that number ends up being accurate, that would mean that more than 1 out of 4 votes cast were fake.
Also, if all of those votes were subtracted from Karzai's total, it could bring his share of the vote below 50 percent, which would require a run off with his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly reacted cautiously to the IEC's announcement.
"We're still waiting for the certified results," Kelly said. "We welcome this next step in the process, but caution patience to everybody to await the final certified results."
Asked about the charges of rampant voter fraud, Kelly said he did not have any independent data, but added, "We're putting our confidence behind these two institutions, the IEC and the ECC. And we are, as I said before, counseling patience, and we want this process to play out."
The Independent Election Commission also released a preliminary turnout figure of 38 percent. That is not necessarily a reliable figure since there was no accurate count of how many possible voters or registered voters there were on Election Day.
Much of the country is under the control of the Taliban which prevented voting, and threatened attacks on people in disputed areas who did vote.
Last week, U.S. and other Western officials met with the IEC after the commission crossed a "red line," having reversed an earlier decision not to count fraudulent votes.
That reversal, the western officials said, came after the commission was "threatened," according to the western officials. They would not elaborate on who had delivered the threats.
Accusations of Ballot Stuffing Taint Karzai's Victory
The officials pointed to multiple ballot stations in Helmand and Kandahar whose results seemed to suggest fraud. In areas where turnout was reported to be very low, some polling stations reported turnout higher than 90 percent.
At one polling center in Helmand's Now Zad district, Karzai received exactly 2,750 votes. His opponents received zero.
Karzai's aides have privately grumbled about the process, accusing the United States of meddling.