A UN-backed watchdog ruled yesterday that almost 1.3 million votes cast in Afghanistan's presidential election had been faked. The report stripped a third of President Hamid Karzai's original tally to deny him outright victory and put him under enormous international pressure to accept a run-off before winter weather makes a fresh ballot impossible.
The Electoral Complaints Commission published documents listing 210 polling stations where ballots were forged. A US election monitor familiar with the data said the numbers cut Mr Karzai's tally of the vote to around 48% of the vote, dragging him under the threshold needed to win in one round. One group, Democracy International, calculated that 995,000 of Mr Karzai's original 3.1 million votes had been thrown out.
Attention will now focus on the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which although constitutionally bound to accept the findings, is widely seen as pro-Karzai and understood to have been at loggerheads with the ECC over its methodology.
The IEC is playing for time, and initially denied receiving the findings. Now it says it hopes to respond tomorrow. Every delay is precious for Mr Karzai, though, as the window for a run-off is open only until snows start cutting off remote communities in November. Even if he successfully avoids a new vote, his status as an international statesman has been further diminished by the electoral process, which has been widely condemned as riven with corruption that has mostly worked in his favour.
On Sunday, Barack Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel ratcheted up the pressure on Mr Karzai, using a CNN interview to raise doubts about the current regime's viability ahead of a putative change in US troop numbers.