The results of the investigations of voter fraud by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) have become critically important in determining the outcome of the August 20 Afghan election. The Afghan people will not be satisfied with the electoral process until the work of the ECC is completed, which could take several more weeks.

A Karzai victory amidst unresolved allegations of vote tampering would leave his new government on shaky ground and damage the credibility of the coalition forces, which would be perceived as supporting a sham election.

Commentators are increasingly talking about the prospect of violent protests among Abdullah supporters in the event Karzai is declared the victor. Such protests could easily take on ethnic overtones and prove devastating to the development of democracy in this war-torn country. Such chaos and confusion would also sap support for the Afghanistan mission here in the U.S., where a recent poll shows 51 percent of Americans do not believe the war is worth fighting. Abdullah has stated on several occasions that his campaign was run on a platform of bringing stability to Afghanistan and he appears committed to pursuing the issue of election irregularities through peaceful means only. He must remain committed to this path.

But there are also risks inherent in the situation if neither Karzai nor Abdullah garner 50 percent of the vote. While this scenario could bolster the Afghans’ faith in the democratic process by demonstrating it was indeed a competitive process, it would also prolong the period of uncertainty in the country and open the door for more Taliban attacks. Although many Afghans summoned up the courage to vote once in the face of brutal threats and attacks, asking them to do so a second time within such a short period of time would be an uphill task.

There are no optimal solutions for the outcome of the election. The best the international community can do right now to support democracy in the country is to ensure the ECC has enough time to fully and transparently investigate all complaints of voter fraud. It will be a time-consuming and cumbersome process but it is the only way to bring back confidence in the Afghan electoral process.