KABUL - Afghanistan remained locked in political crisis on Monday as President Hamid Karzai's campaign sharply criticized the U.N.-led fraud investigation into August's disputed presidential election.
The election, tainted by allegations of widespread fraud, has fanned tension between Karzai and Western governments whose troops are fighting a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan in a war that has entered its ninth year.
The protracted process has complicated U.S. President Barack Obama's deliberations on whether to send thousands more troops that his top military commander in Afghanistan says he needs.
The U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said it would unveil its verdict on Afghanistan's election at 1230 GMT on Monday after weeks of uncertainty since the August 20 poll.
Karzai must win more than 50 percent of votes to avoid a second round against his main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. The main question is whether the ECC's probe finds enough fraudulent votes to tip Karzai below 50 percent.
In the first public criticism of the investigation coming from Karzai's side, a senior member of his election team said the ECC procedure was wrong.
The campaign office of Hamid Karzai criticizes the formula (used by ECC) for dealing with suspect votes, Mohammad Moin Marastyal, a senior member of Karzai's team and a member of parliament, said of the investigation.
This (procedure) is not correct and this has brought down Karzai's tally. ... Effort has been made to lower Karzai's vote to below 50 (percent). Now we are in a deadlock.
Karzai has long warned against a second round and has hinted the ECC's fraud investigation could have involved foreign meddling. Abdullah has said he would accept the ECC decision if all fraud had been properly investigated.
Officials and diplomats have said the ECC's findings were expected to cut Karzai's tally to below 50 percent.
In a sign of continued diplomacy, the United Nations' top envoy Kai Eide had been visiting both Karzai and Abdullah daily to persuade them to accept the ECC ruling, a U.N. official said.
Karzai is putting up resistance to accept a possible second round, said a foreign diplomat close to the talks.
It was not immediately clear whether Afghanistan's separate, Karzai-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC) would accept the ECC ruling.
We are looking, we do not have any official report yet. I think our technical team are in discussions (with the ECC), said Noor Mohammad Noor, an IEC spokesman.
Under Afghan electoral law, the ECC is mandated to instruct the IEC to announce the final result of the election based on the watchdog's findings. Preliminary figures gave Karzai 54.6 percent of the vote. If enough votes are thrown out from his tally, he will face Abdullah in a second round within two weeks.
It (IEC) cannot reject it constitutionally but that does not mean they will not do that, said another foreign diplomat.
U.S. SEEKS RELIABLE PARTNER
In Washington, the White House said the United States needed a reliable partner in Kabul and President Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy and decision on U.S. troops depended on whether the Kabul government was effective.
The overriding question is not how many troops you send, but do you have a credible Afghan partner? White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said on CNN's State of the Union.
Obama is considering whether to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan after a request by General Stanley McChrystal, the man in charge of all foreign forces there, who says he needs the extra forces to tackle a strengthening insurgency.
Speaking to CBS on Sunday, Emanuel said it was key to get a government that is seen as legitimate to the people and has the credibility to be a partner in the effort to secure Afghanistan so it's not a haven for al Qaeda or other type of terrorists or international terrorist organizations.
Pressure has been mounting on Karzai to find a way out of the protracted crisis as foreign diplomats and officials, including U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, flocked to Kabul over the weekend to help broker a solution.
Observers familiar with the talks said a range of scenarios were on the table, including a power-sharing deal with Abdullah.
For his part, while accusing Karzai's camp of fraud and calling for a second round, Abdullah has hinted he might be open to discussions after the first round result is announced.
(Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch and Golnar Motevalli; Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Paul Tait)