Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election was caught up in more turmoil yesterday as both candidates vying to succeed Hamid Karzai pulled their observers out of a ballot audit meant to determine the winner of a vote held in June.
First, Abdullah Abdullah withdrew his monitors in protest about the process, which his team claims is rife with fraud.
The United Nations, which is helping supervise the United States-brokered audit, asked the other candidate, Ashraf Ghani, to pull out his observers in the interest of fairness.
It was not immediately clear whether the withdrawals meant the two candidates would reject the audit results – and therefore the result of the election. That could have dangerous repercussions in a country struggling to overcome ethnic and religious divides and still battling a Taleban insurgency.
The US brokered the audit of eight million ballots from the presidential election as a way to end an impasse over the results. But the audit itself has proceeded in fits and starts as both sides argued over every ballot.
Mr Abdullah came in first during the first round of voting in April but preliminary results from the June vote showed Mr Ghani in the lead. That sparked accusations of fraud from the Abdullah camp.
Mr Ghani’s camp also alleged voting irregularities and both sides agreed to the audit after a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry in July.
Yesterday, Mr Abdullah’s camp followed through on a threat to boycott the audit if its concerns over fraud were not addressed, and pulled observers from the recount, which is being carried out in Kabul.
UN representative Nicholas Haysom said the UN asked the opposing side to assess whether they should participate in the audit as well and said Mr Ghani’s camp later agreed to also pull out. “The audit will now proceed to its conclusion,” he said. “We do not anticipate any significant disruption to the process going forward.”
Initially, Mr Abdullah’s team was concerned that not enough ballots have been invalidated to correspond to the level of fraud he believes happened, and asked that the criteria for invalidation be expanded.
The election impasse has also hurt Afghanistan’s economy, as people worrying about the outbreak of civil war hold on to their money and investors put the brakes on new projects. It has also delayed the signing of a security pact with the US that would permit a small number of American troops to stay in Afghanistan past December.
Mr Karzai, who has been trying to bring both sides together to overcome the impasse, met the two candidates on Sunday and Tuesday. He insisted the inauguration of the new president must happen by next Tuesday – two days before Nato members meet in Wales. Without a new president, it is unclear who would represent Afghanistan at a meeting to discuss the military coalition’s support for Afghan forces. A spokesman for Mr Karzai, Aimal Faizi, said the president thought it was better to send the new president.
In Ghor province, governor Anwar Rahmati yesterday said local security forces were battling a group of 700 Taleban in the southern Pasaband district. Militants have killed nine police officers and captured another 30, he said.