KABUL - Preliminary results from Afghanistan's presidential election have been delayed for a second time, election officials announced Wednesday, a postponement likely to fuel more political uncertainty and fraud allegations.
The September 28 poll has already been marred by a record-low turnout and bicking between the incumbent, President Ashraf Ghani, and his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
The preliminary results were originally due for October 19 - but the announcement was delayed until November 14, with officials from the Independent Election Commissions (IEC) citing various technical problems.
Now that date has been pushed back also.
"Unfortunately due to technical problems and other issues, we will not be able to announce the election results tomorrow," IEC spokesman Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi told AFP on Wednesday, without providing details or a new date.
IEC officials are expected to hold a press conference on the matter on Thursday.
The fresh delay comes shortly after the IEC issued a statement saying it had to stop a planned recount and audit of the votes after some candidates said they would boycott and protest the process, claiming fraud.
The IEC had begun a recount of votes from more than 8,000 polling stations - almost a third of the total - on Saturday, but the process was challenged mainly by Abdullah's supporters.
Abdullah - who currently works as chief executive in a unity government with Ghani - has previously raised questions about the validity of some 300,000 additional votes which he says did not come through biometric devices used in the polling, and thus should be invalidated.
"The recounting should be stopped. We are trying to save the process from fraudsters," he said at a rally of his supporters in Kabul last week.
In the past several days his supporters stopped the recount process in 14 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, according to election officials - in some cases closing the doors of provincial election offices.
There was no immediate comment from the candidates about the delay on Wednesday.
The election was meant to be the cleanest yet in Afghanistan's young democracy, with a German firm supplying biometric machines that were supposed to stop people from voting more than once.
But nearly a million of the initial votes were purged owing to irregularities, meaning the election saw by far the lowest turnout of any Afghan poll, with only about 1.8 million votes from a total of 9.6 million registered voters in a population of around 37 million people.
Earlier this week, the United Nations and a group of Western donor nations called on the candidates not to "undermine" the poll.
The ongoing uncertainty raises the possibility Afghanistan is headed for a repeat of the crisis that followed the last presidential election in 2014.
Then, Ghani and Abdullah fought a close and angry race that sparked widespread allegations of fraud and saw the US step in to broker an awkward power-sharing agreement between the rivals under a unity government.