Afghanistan's much-watched presidential elections are in for more flak after the embattled United Nations special envoy admitted for the first time that there was widespread fraud in the August poll.
United Nations Special Representative Kai Eide told a press conference in Kabul on Sunday that "it is true that in a number of polling stations in the south and the southeast there was significant fraud."
"It has been claimed that there was 30 percent fraud. There is no way to know at this stage what the level of fraud is. No one knows. I can only say there was widespread fraud," Eide said.
Eide had called the media conference to deny allegations made by his sacked former deputy, Peter Galbraith. The latter had accused Eide of hushing up evidence of fraud in the August 20 elections.
Galbraith had previously said that 30 percent of President Hamid Karzai's votes were fraudulent, echoing European Union election monitors who had labeled 1.5 million votes, including 1.1 million for Karzai, as being suspicious.
Eide denied any interference with the process to conceal the level of fraud, saying that the UN mandate in Afghanistan was meant to support the process, not influence the outcome.
"The allegations made against me by my former deputy have not only been personal attacks against me and my integrity, but they have been attacks that in fact have affected the entire election process," Eide said.
The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) is conducting an investigation and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) has carried out a week-long audit of 10 percent of the suspicious ballot boxes.
Election officials said on Sunday that the sample audit was completed and that the results would be announced within a few days.
Karzai to lose absolute majority?
The incumbent Karzai has been leading preliminary results in the Afghan presidential poll with about 55 percent of the vote, followed by former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah with 28 percent, according to figures released by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) last month.
Should Karzai, who has been bearing the brunt of fraud accusations, drop below 50 percent, he would have to face a run-off with Abdullah Abdullah.
IEC officials have said that a run-off would have to be held three weeks after final results are announced and before winter weather makes rural areas in central and northern Afghanistan inaccessible.
Editor: Holly Fox