ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - European election observers are urging Afghanistan to broaden the scope of its investigation into vote fraud to ensure a credible outcome of the presidential election. Meanwhile, the campaign of presidential hopeful Abdullah Abdullah says it will reject preliminary results due on Monday if election authorities fail to address its complaints of rigging.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission this week was set to release initial results from the June 14 presidential run-off. Instead, it decided to delay the announcement until Monday. The commission cited the ongoing audit of ballots in nearly 2,000 polling stations where an exceptionally high turnout surprised many.
The leader of the European Union election assessment team, Thijs Berman, told reporters in Kabul Thursday that the number of polling stations under investigation “significantly limits the possibility to detect irregularities if there were any.”
He added that while there was “sufficient worrying data” that warranted the audit, the investigators also need to examine complaints about an exceptionally high score for one candidate or surprising differences between female and male voters in the same polling center.
"Our conclusion is that if you would use these factors as well and investigate all nearly 23,000 polling stations in the country on the basis of these factors you may well end up concluding that over 6,000 polling stations in the country need thorough investigation ...I have grave concerns on these high figures and insist on the necessity to enlarge the audit as these figures are so high,” said Berman.
Berman rejected suggestions his mission was interfering in the Afghan election process, insisting its conclusions were strictly based on figures provided by the election commission.
The run-off election pitted former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah against former finance minister Ashraf Ghani. While Abdullah won more votes in the first round, Ghani’s aides claim he has beaten his rival by a margin of one million votes.
With official results expected on Monday, Abdullah’s campaign cites what it called “industrial-scale fraud” allegedly orchestrated by outgoing President Hamid Karzai and the election commission to rig the vote in favor of Ghani, charges officials have rejected.
The commission has already met some of Abdullah’s demands. But his campaign’s chief spokesman, Nasrullah Baryali Arsalai, on Thursday warned that it would reject any results announced before all their concerns were addressed.
He said, “Unless dirty votes are separated from clean votes, any results announced on Monday or in the coming few days will not be acceptable to us and we will reject them as illegitimate.”
EU observers' chief Berman emphasized the need for a credible outcome of the presidential election.
“Obviously, it is necessary and would be highly desirable that both candidates agree on a way out of the current deadlock in this electoral process, a way out that leads to a credible outcome of these elections and that would lead to a stable and peaceful Afghanistan,” he said.
The protracted political impasse has undermined hopes for a smooth transfer of power from one democratically elected president to another. Berman hoped that broadening the investigation into alleged vote fraud would not cause undue delays and the new president of Afghanistan will be inaugurated on August 2, the official day set by Karzai.
While Ghani had been pressing for the results to be announced on time he has expressed his willingness to work with Abdullah to find a way out of the crisis. But the candidates have yet to meet one-on-one despite public commitments.?