KABUL, Oct. 19, 2009 -- More than 1 million votes -- most of them for Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- were thrown out by election monitors in the disputed presidential election today, a decision that the Afghan president has indicated he might ignore.
The ruling by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission would reduce the president's total from the 54 percent he has claimed to 48.3 percent. Anything under 50 percent is supposed to trigger a runoff between Karzai and his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah.
Over the weekend, Afghan election officials indicated they would not accept the possibility of a second vote, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that she has spoken to Karzai several times in recent days and that Karzai will announce his decision on Tuesday.
Clinton didn't indicate what Karzai's decision would be, but said she is "encouraged at the direction that the situation is moving."
She added, "I am very hopeful that we will see a resolution in line with the constitutional order in the next several days."
Clinton said she has received assurances from U.S. and Afghan officials that it would be possible to hold a runoff election before Afghanistan's crippling winter takes hold in the coming weeks.
Democracy International reported that the ECC has determined that 1.3 million votes were fraudulent, and about 1 million of those tainted votes were for Karzai. Another 200,000 votes for Abdullah were also thrown out, with the remainder for a handful of other candidates.
Those figures were confirmed to ABC News by election officials.
The impasse created by Karzai's rejection of the results has created paralysis within the Afghan government, where officials say they cannot make major decisions with the presidency in limbo, and is adding pressure on the Obama administration, which has said it cannot decide its strategy until the election is over.
"It would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create and become a true partner in governing the Afghan country," White House chief of staff Rham Emanuel said Sunday on CNN.
The White House reacted cautiously the ECC report today.
"It's going to be incredibly important for the world to see that Afghan leaders are willing to make this process legitimate, and that's the process that we're encouraging," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "And I think it's now up to the Afghans to make this legitimate."
French Foreign Minister Bernad Koucher and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, were in Kabul over the weekend urging the Afghans to resolve the standoff quickly. But many Afghans increasingly blame the political uncertainty on the United States, which is seen by some as meddling in the country's electoral process.
The U.N. commission's findings are legally binding under Afghan law, but it's unclear what will happen if the Afghan-led Independent Election Commission or Karzai persists in resisting them.
"The election was good and fair and worthy of praise, not of scorn, which the election received from the international media," Karzai told ABC News' Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" on Oct. 13. "That makes me very unhappy. That, rather, makes me angry."
American officials say preparations for a runoff are underway, despite challenges that could make it difficult to hold a second nationwide vote.
Impending winter weather could make travel to polling stations difficult for Afghans in some parts of the country.
Afghan Runoff Would Face Significant Challenges
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has been poring over weather maps for months and is convinced that only small parts of the north will be too snowy for people to vote in the first week of November -- the target date for a runoff. But that could be wishful thinking.
Afghan election officials could also drag their heels on organizing a second ballot, since Afghan election law does not require the IEC to act within a certain number of days once it accepts the ECC results. If the commission delays enough -- or if Karzai tells them to delay -- it may be impossible to hold a runoff before the winter.
Officials say it's also imperative that the root causes of voter fraud and abuse that plagued the first vote be resolved before a runoff. Peter Galbraith, the former U.S. deputy to the U.N. senior representative in Afghanistan, told ABC News that unless officials make drastic changes to the election process, a runoff election between Karzai and Abdullah would be a "complete disaster."
Galbraith has been critical of the United Nations for its handling of last summer's election and was recently fired from his post after feuding with U.N. officials whom he alleges were complicit in the fraud.
He says many of the factors that caused problems on Aug. 20 -- ghost polling stations, corrupt election staff and a partisan commission -- are still present.
Still, delaying a vote on account of fraud allegations or the weather could further complicate Afghanistan's fragile political framework.
At an event in Washington on Oct. 15, Afghan ambassador to the U.S. Said Tayeb Javad said "to delay until spring is a recipe for disaster... We will have a government under pressure to deliver results" but with its top leadership in limbo, he said.
One idea being floated is a unity government with Karzai and allies of Abdullah. A senior State Department official told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that Abdullah may agree not to press for a runoff if several of his associates get key positions in such a government. This official believes that Abdullah does not want to join the government himself. Karzai, however, has not indicated a position on a compromise government.
Afghan Situation: 'Crisis of Legitimacy'
The commission's findings have enormous implications for the Obama administration's ongoing Afghanistan strategy review, which officials have said hinges on having an effective and credible Afghan partner.
"What's most important is that there is a sense of legitimacy in Afghanistan among the Afghan people for their government," President Obama said at the G-20 summit Sept. 25. "If there is not, that makes our task much more difficult."
An Afghan government seen as illegitimate complicates the recommendation by Gen. Stanley McChrystal to send tens of thousands of more troops into the country to more closely partner in a counter-insurgency and nation-building strategy.
"In the absence of having a credible Afghan partner -- that is to say, a government that enjoys the support of the people and is accepted by those that did not vote for the man who emerges as president -- it makes no sense to ramp up," Galbraith told ABC News. "On the other hand, we cannot afford to pull out."
ABC News' Martha Raddatz contributed to this report.