Afghan President Hamid Karzai denied on Thursday that major electoral fraud took place last month and urged foreign allies not to interfere over investigations into mounting allegations of vote-rigging.
Afghans went to the polls on August 20 in only their second direct presidential election, but the vote has been overshadowed by massive claims of irregularities and threats of violence by Taliban rebels.
"Media has reported major fraud. It wasn't that big. If there was fraud, it was small -- it happens all over the world," Karzai told reporters a day after preliminary results gave him 54.6 per cent of the vote.
But hundreds of thousands of ballots are being recounted because of fears of electoral fraud, and EU monitors have branded a quarter of the ballots cast as "suspicious" -- most of them for Karzai.
"If there is fraud, it has to be investigated, but investigated fairly and without prejudice," Karzai said.
"I hope our foreign friends respect the people of Afghanistan and let the IEC (Independent Election Commission) and the ECC (Electoral Complaints Commission) fulfil their work without interference."
The European Union Election Observation Mission to Afghanistan on Wednesday said that they had identified 1.5 million votes which could be fraudulent, with 1.1 of those cast for Karzai.
His campaign office responded furiously, accusing the EU of meddling and damning the announcement as "partial, irresponsible and in contradiction with Afghanistan's constitution."
Karzai said Thursday he would respect the results of investigations by the electoral bodies, but there is no timescale yet for the audits and recounts at about 2,500 polling stations, raising fears of protracted political turmoil.
"I rely on it (the IEC) and respect its work," Karzai said.
The fracas comes as Taliban insurgents are waging a bloody insurgency to topple the government, with threats of militant violence believed to be behind the meagre election turnout of 38.7 per cent.
Karzai said "we had a successful election", but admitted that threats of violence by the Taliban did impact the polls.
"We promised them security, but we failed to provide them security on election day... but people even then came out to vote," he said.