Election authorities investigated reports of vote fraud and audited results Wednesday after ballot-counting ended in Afghanistan's landmark parliamentary poll, officials said.
The official election Web site showed powerful warlords, a former Taliban (search) commander and women's activists among the front-runners set to win seats in the 249 Wolesi Jirga, or National Assembly.
Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the joint U.N.-Afghan election body, said the first few provisional results from provinces were expected Thursday.
Results will be announced in phases in case of unrest. Officials expect a blizzard of complaints and accusations of cheating by losing candidates. Final certified results are due Oct. 22.
Suspected Taliban insurgents who failed to stop 6.8 million Afghans from voting Sept. 18 resumed attacks this week. A bomb at a crossing point on the Afghan-Pakistan border Tuesday killed three people and wounded 20 others.
NATO's (search) secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said Tuesday that NATO plans to deploy 6,000 extra troops with more "robust" rules for imposing security when it expands its peacekeeping mission into the south next year — a move that could free up thousands of forces from a separate U.S.-led coalition force that hunts the rebels.
The election for new national and provincial assemblies is the latest step in Afghanistan's transition to democracy after two decades of war and the collapse of the hardline Taliban regime in a U.S.-led war in late 2001.
Siddique said vote-counting finished Tuesday, except for ballot boxes that were quarantined because of suspicions of fraud — pending a review in each case by the election body on whether those votes should be declared invalid.
Currently, the top-ranking candidates in most provinces are warlords or leaders of mujahedeen factions, many active in the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s and the ruinous 1992-96 civil war that followed.
But there are also plenty of new faces. Among the expected winners is 27-year-old Malalai Joya, a women's rights worker, who rose to prominence for daring to denounce powerful warlords at a post-Taliban constitutional convention two years ago.
A quarter of the seats are reserved for women.
Three former Taliban government ministers have fared badly, so far winning only a few hundred votes each. Yet in insurgency-plagued Zabul province, a former Taliban military commander, Abdul Salaam Rocketi, is leading. He earned his last name for his skill in firing rockets.
Other likely winners include former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led Afghanistan during the ruinous civil war, former communists, academics, doctors, journalists, Muslim clerics and an elder brother of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai (search).
In the capital, the two chief rivals to Karzai in last year's presidential election — Mohammed Mohaqeq and Younus Qanooni — are leading.
It remains to be seen if they can marshal broader support within parliament to become an effective check on Karzai's dominance in Afghanistan's highly centralized political system, as all candidates had to run as independents.