KABUL - The United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan urged candidates and voters on Monday to remain patient while complaints surrounding last week's disputed presidential election are being considered.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC), which has yet to announce any results from last Thursday's poll, said complaints of fraud submitted so far were not sufficiently large to alter the outcome. Partial results are expected on Tuesday.
The country has been in a state of political limbo since the vote, the second since the overthrow of the hardline Islamist Taliban in late 2001. With no official result, candidates have been claiming victory and alleging fraud.
An election result respected by the candidates and their supporters is crucial for the country and for U.S. President Barack Obama, who has made stabilizing Afghanistan his top foreign policy priority.
Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, President Hamid Karzai's main rival, has been the most outspoken, accusing the incumbent's camp of widespread vote rigging and saying his side had lodged more than 100 complaints with election officials.
Karzai and Abdullah, who have already both claimed they are ahead in the race, have also promised to respect the result and avoid stirring up any violence. The partly U.N.-appointed Election Complaints Commission (ECC) is overseeing complaints.
U.N. envoy Kai Eide acknowledged there had been some problems with the election but urged patience while authorities checked into complaints.
There is no doubt that there have been irregularities during the polling day, there have been irregularities before the polling day, he told reporters at the ECC headquarters in Kabul.
I do appeal to the candidates and to the campaigns and also to the voters to demonstrate the patience and the calm that is required for the ECC to carry out its work, Eide said.
Two opinion polls before the election predicted Karzai would win, but not by enough to prevent a potentially destabilizing second round run-off against Abdullah in October.
To avoid a run-off, the winning candidate must secure more than 50 percent of the vote.
The ECC has said it had received 225 complaints including voter intimidation, violence, ballot box tampering and interference by some election officials. It has classified 35 of those complaints as a priority.
I think the 35 cases cannot affect the result of the election, IEC deputy head Zekria Barakzai told a news conference. The IEC ran the election and will publish the results, but is separate from the watchdog ECC.
We have reached the conclusion that 35 cases of reported fraud and violations is not widespread, given the number of polling centres is 6,300. Whoever makes claims that there is widespread fraud should show evidence, Barakzai said.
He said the IEC would publish the tallies from 2,400 polling stations on Tuesday, the first results to appear. Complete preliminary results are not officially due until September 3.
Eide said the slow count should not have been a surprise.
We all knew that this is the timetable. It has not surprised anybody. We must respect this process. Respect means also demonstrating patience, said Eide.
Millions of Afghans braved threats of Taliban violence to vote last Thursday. While the militants did launch sporadic attacks across the country which suppressed turnout in the south, they were not able to wreck the election altogether.
(Editing by Paul Tait)