RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Afghanistan's presidential election may be headed to a runoff. Preliminary returns from last week's ballot indicate that President Karzai and his top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, each have roughly 40 percent of the vote. That's according to the Afghan Election Commission. With about 10 percent of the votes counted so far, if neither Karzai or Abdullah gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the two will face each other again in a runoff.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joins us now on the line from Kabul.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: First of all, give us the official figures that have been released so far, the details.
NELSON: Well, we have 524,000 - roughly 524,000 votes that have been counted thus far, representing about 10 percent of the cast ballots. And again, these are all estimates because nothing is definite here in Afghanistan.
And when you look at those votes, of those votes that have been counted, there is like a 10,000 vote margin between President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah. President Karzai has roughly 213,000 votes, and Dr. Abdullah has 203,000 votes.
And again, this is very - I have to keep stressing that this is somewhat sketchy because we are talking about 10 percent of the vote. And just to give you an idea, in Kabul less than 10 percent of the vote has been counted thus far, and of course the turnout was fairly decent here.
MONTAGNE: You know, Soraya, just yesterday one of the top people in Karzai's administration was saying that the president had won an outright victory with something very close to 70 percent of votes, which is a bit of a startling number. So, where was that coming from? Was that pure politics?
NELSON: I believe so, Renee. Certainly, Dr. Abdullah offered something similar today in a press conference, where he said that if there's no fraud he, in fact, would be the clear victor. And what the Independent Election Commission officer who gave the figures today, Dr. Daoud Ali Najafi, said, he warned the candidates again that they should stop giving figures, that the IEC is really the only ones that can, you know, officially announce any kind of results.
MONTAGNE: The IEC, meaning the Independent Election Commission?
MONTAGNE: And now, of course we've been hearing for days, allegations of widespread fraud in the election. Every - virtually - candidate has charged other candidates with doing that. So where do these complaints stand given this vote count and the numbers of votes that were thrown out?
NELSON: Well, the Election Complaints Commission is investigating these allegations, and they're taking their time in doing it. They want to be sure they do an absolute, thorough job, according to Grant Kippen, who heads that organization - and he's an American.
And he did say, recently, that 35 of the complaints they are investigating are serious enough that if they are found to be correct it could, in fact, sway the outcome of the election.
MONTAGNE: Even given these preliminary figures?
NELSON: Yeah. Absolutely.
MONTAGNE: There are still plenty of votes to be counted - is there any way to predict how this will go? Will it stay in a kind of runoff situation or is it possible one of the candidates can really swoop ahead?
NELSON: It's very possible one of them will, in fact, get far ahead of the others because, again, we're looking at 10 percent of the votes. And even in the capital, there has been, as I mentioned, there have been less than 10 percent counted. So Dr. Najafi cautioned against reading too much into the results that were released today. He also said they would be releasing more results everyday from now on.
MONTAGNE: Soraya, thanks.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, speaking to us from Kabul on preliminary results in Afghanistan's presidential election.
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