Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged rival candidates to accelerate and conclude a U.N.-supervised audit of all 8.1 million ballots cast in the hotly disputed June 14 presidential runoff election.
The slow-moving anti-fraud audit is fueling economic and political uncertainty in the country and worrying war-torn Afghanistan's Western backers.
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) is conducting the anti-fraud audit of nearly 23,000 ballot boxes from polling stations nationwide.
The massive exercise began a month ago under direct U.N. supervision, with the participation of agents of candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah.
The process is being monitored by hundreds of domestic and foreign observers.
U.N. officials said about 70 percent of the ballot boxes have been processed and they are pressing both candidates to fully cooperate in completing the audit soon.
Observers cite frequent walkouts, verbal disputes and sometimes physical brawls between Ghani and Abdullah's representatives.
Meeting with candidates
On Sunday, officials said Karzai met with both presidential hopefuls at his palace to urge them “to cooperate with the concerned authorities to expedite” the vote scrutiny process.
Karzai was quoted as telling Ghani and Abdullah the government is prepared to inaugurate his successor by the agreed upon time frame.
Afghan monitors involved in the audit process are skeptical about the presidential claims in view of what they see as a persistent lack of cooperation between representatives of both the candidates and certain legal requirements.
Chairman Naeem Ayubzada of the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan has deployed more than 100 experts to observe the audit process.
Ayubzada spoke to VOA shortly after observing Sunday’s proceedings at the election commission.
“The process is very slow at the IEC. And I do not see a cooperative approach by candidate agents and candidate teams within the (auditing) process," he said.
"I do not see any willingness by the candidates to accept the (final) results. [So,] based on our observations on the current process, I think it would be very difficult for the process to be finished on the deadline given or pointed out by President Karzai," Ayubzada said.
Ayubzada said the IEC plans to begin the process of invalidating suspicious votes from Monday.
After results are tallied at the end of the large-scale audit exercise, he said, an Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) will have to complete its adjudication of complaints filed by both candidates before the election commission announces final results.
Meanwhile, Karzai met with outgoing American commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford.
A statement from Karzai's office said the Afghan leader emphasized the need for a new president to be sworn in so Afghanistan is represented at the NATO conference in Britain in early September.
The NATO meeting will discuss future plans for Afghanistan as the bulk of international combat forces will withdraw from the country by end of the year.
On Friday, President Barack Obama spoke to the presidential candidates, urging them to work closely to conclude Afghanistan's election process and prevent a political crisis.