KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai edged closer to a second term in office on Sunday as updated polling results gave him nearly enough votes to avoid a run-off election.
Karzai's closest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, now has 31.7 percent of the vote, according to the new results announced by an Afghanistan election commission Sunday.
To gain a first round victory, Karzai needs 50 percent of the vote and results reported on Sunday put him just over one percentage point away from the needed threshold.
The Afghan election has been marred by allegations of widespread election fraud. A separate election complaints commission is reviewing some 600 high-profile allegations of fraud or other misconduct. The election too is being closely monitored by U.S officials here, while President Barack Obama in Washington reviews Pentagon requests to increase the number of combat troops in Afghanistan.
Separately, election officials on Sunday also threw out the ballots from 447 polling places because they couldn't guarantee their accuracy. Officials did not release how many votes were involved or where the polling places were located.
Later this week, the election commission is expected to release a more complete vote tally. By then, a Karzai supporter predicted, the president would be able to claim over 50 percent of the vote.
"I am confident that he will win between 51 and 56 percent of the vote," said Moen Marastyal, a parliament member who advises the Karzai campaign.
But Marastyal said the Karzai likely would not declare victory until the vote count is formally certified. That could be weeks away as investigators looks into the 600 complaints of ballot-box stuffing, voter intimidation and other misconduct.
The Aug. 20 election was held amid scattered insurgent attacks that at some polling places dramatically reduced turn out.
In a press conference Saturday, Abdullah accused Karzai supporters of trying to rig the election, and the commission of colluding in that effort. To bolster that claim, Abdullah has cited some polling places where 100 percent of the votes went to Karzai, and other suspicious statistical information about some polling sites included in the vote tally.
Marastyal said that allegations of ballot box stuffing also extends to other candidates, and the Karzai campaign did not participate in — or encourage — misconduct.
The polling took place at more than 6,000 sites spread across this rugged nation.
"The commission believes that considering the prevailing situation in the country, the elections were transparent and just," said a commission statement released over the weekend.
McClatchy special correspondent Hashim Shukoor contributed to this report.
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