Afghan election officials have resumed a full-ballot audit after United Nations-led attempts failed to convince one of the two presidential finalists to rejoin the process.
U.N. officials have held days of intense talks to persuade presidential hopeful Abdullah Abdullah to participate in the auditing that was suspended a week ago because of differences on how to disqualify fraudulent ballots.
But the talks failed to produce results, prompting the Independent Election Commission to resume ballot scrutiny on Sunday without Abdullah’s monitors.
Commission spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor says the auditing of more than eight million votes is taking place in the presence of hundreds of international and national observers, journalists and representatives of presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani.
He said the Election Commission hopes and encourages Abdullah’s team to join the audit and its doors are open for them.
The spokesman explained that the framework for inspecting the votes has been developed by U.N. experts and representatives of the two presidential candidates, and the commission played no role in it.
However, Abdullah campaign chief Nasrullah Baryilai Arsalai later insisted that the criteria being used for invalidating fraudulent votes cast in the June 14 presidential runoff do not include conditions the Abdullah team put forward.
He said that, “unfortunately, without accepting our conditions, the election commission began the audit process that is not legal and has no legitimacy.
Chief of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, has been urging rival candidates to help end the political process without causing further delays.
“Indeed, any delays, any uncertainties have a major negative impact on both the political and economic situation in Afghanistan. It is high time to complete the process of the elections and to inaugurate the new president of the country,” said Kubis.
The election dispute began when Abdullah, who led the first round of the Afghan presidential election, rejected the outcome of the runoff vote that put rival candidate Ghani well ahead of him.
Abdullah later produced several audio tapes he claimed were evidence that outgoing President Hamid Karzai’s administration, the election commission and the Ghani team colluded against him. Officials have denied the charges as unfounded.
On Sunday, Abdullah’s team released an audio recording that it says is a Karzai deputy encouraging vote rigging in favor of Ghani. Officials promptly rejected the tape as fake. But critics say the latest allegations are likely to deepen the crisis that will delay the inauguration of Karzai’s replacement, set for end of August.
Moreover, two key agreements that would allow the United States and NATO to maintain a small military presence in Afghanistan past 2014 are also awaiting the signature of the new Afghan president because Mr. Karzai has refused to do so.