A power struggle at the top of Afghanistan’s election commission is threatening to sway the outcome of the country’s presidential ballot, as officials argue over how many votes to discard because of fraud.

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The Electoral Complaints Commission is probing more than 2,000 fraud claims.

The head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), who was appointed by President Hamid Karzai, is pressuring his staff to include all the votes, despite widespread evidence of vote rigging. Most of the fraud is in support of Mr Karzai, The Indipendent reports.

If Azizullah Ludin, the chairman of the IEC, gets his way, most analysts predict Karzai will win the election in the first round.

“He wants to publish everything and let the Election Complaints Commission take responsibility for working out which votes werefraudulent,” said an official involved in the process.

The complaints commission has the authority to discard dodgy votes, but Afghan and international officials admit it would be politically very difficult for them to change the result.

Meanwhile, the leader of Kandahar’s Bareez tribe has told the BBC that nearly 30,000 votes were cast fraudulently for President Hamid Karzai instead of a challenger.

Mr Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who heads the Kandahar provincial council, called the claims “baseless”.

Full investigation

Speaking to Daud Qarizadah of the BBC’s Persian television service, the Bareez tribal leader, Haji Mohammed Bareez, said that ballot boxes from one district were “stuffed” with fraudulent votes in favour of Mr Karzai.

The tribe believes it has been deprived of its votes and wants a full investigation by the complaints commission, which has the power to throw them out if they are proved invalid.

‘No preference’ for second round in Afghan vote

Earlier US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said the international community has no preference as to whether a second round run-off should be held to decide the winner of the Afghan presidential poll.

“We have no candidates and no preference as to a first round victory or a run-off,” he told reporters at the French foreign ministry ahead of a meeting of the international community’s senior envoys to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Our advocacy is for a fair process overseen by the Independent Electoral Commission, taking into account the decisions of the electoral complaints commission,” Holbrooke added.

Diplomats had previously said Holbrooke would prefer Afghanistan to hold a second round run-off between President Hamid Karzai and his rival Abdullah Abdullah in order to improve the credibility of a race marred by fraud claims.