WASHINGTON - United Nations and Afghan officials say they will restart Saturday the auditing of votes cast in the country’s runoff presidential election. The move comes after repeated delays that are threatening an orderly and peaceful transfer of power.
The ballots -- more than 8 million of them -- have been arriving from every corner of Afghanistan.
The ballot boxes are piled high in stifling hot aluminum warehouses on the edge of Kabul. More than 22,000 are to be examined for signs of fraud.
The deal was cut during an emergency visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Both candidates have agreed to abide by the results of the audit and that the winner of the election will serve as president and will immediately form a government of national unity," said Kerry.
The audit has been plagued, however, by disagreements and a shortage of international observers, creating a chaotic atmosphere.
Afghan expert Scott Smith said, “The problem is we are in sort of a state of suspended animation on this very, very crucial issue of trying to get a result from this presidential election that, don’t forget, was first held on the fifth of April.”
And while the candidates agreed to the audit -- it has taken weeks to reach an agreement on the details.
Jan Kubis of the U.N. said, “This opens the doors to the next stage and, in a way, almost final stage of the audit.”
So far, only a fraction of the ballots have been examined amid allegations of massive fraud.
Analysts say the political uncertainty is hurting the Afghan economy. Potential investors are hedging their bets on the future.
“The concern is that we will not have a government where the authority is clear and the legitimacy is based on an electoral outcome at a time when Afghanistan desperately needs that kind of clarity and that kind of legitimacy,” said Smith.
Meanwhile, Taliban insurgents are making gains on the battlefield. The advances come as the U.S. prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of the year.
Jed Ober of Democracy International said, “The way the country can put itself in the strongest position to fight the Taliban and to show the rest of the world it has resolve against the Taliban is to move forward toward a democratic, peaceful transfer of power.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign a security agreement that would allow the United States to keep nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan past 2014.
Western military leaders say the pact must be signed by the new president no later than early September.
Analysts say delays in the election audit could seriously jeopardize Afghanistan’s future.