ISLAMABAD - A frontrunner in Afghanistan’s recently held presidential election called Sunday for immediately halting a recount of the vote, casting aspersions on the integrity and legitimacy of the already delayed electoral process.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah made the demand a day after unilaterally withdrawing his team’s election observers from the recounting process ahead of Thursday’s scheduled announcement of the preliminary results from the September 28 polls.
The country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) was due to release first results on October 19 but failed to meet the deadline, citing capacity issues and efforts aimed at ensuring transparency of the process.
Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah’s lead challenger and ruling partner in the Afghan unity government, has so far not withdrawn from the process.
The fourth Afghan presidential election has been marred by record-low turnout and allegations of fraud, prompting continued bickering between Abdullah and Ghani.
Other presidential candidates also have accused Ghani of misusing state resources to run his campaign and try to manipulate the outcome in his favor, charges the president’s campaign leaders reject.
The initial turnout from a total of 9.6 million registered Afghan voters in an estimated 37 million population of the country stood at around 25%, the lowest turnout of any Afghan election.
The IEC has already discarded nearly a million votes for irregularities, leaving about 1.8 million ballots officials say have been retrieved from biometric machines used on the polling day to deter fraud.
Abdullah accused IEC of attempting to “legitimize fraud” and include votes into account that do not fulfil biometric verification standards or were cast outside the official ballot timeframe on the polling day.
“The election commission must stop the partial recount process until it has addressed our concerns about the newly 300,000 controversial votes,” he stressed.
In its reaction to Abdullah’s warning, a spokesman for the IEC explained to VOA presidential candidates will have the right to approach the Independent Election Complaints Commission and submit their concerns once the counting process is concluded.
All previous elections held in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban government in 2001 were marred by allegations of widespread fraud and rigging, prompting the IEC to use biometric devices for the first time in the just concluded presidential polls.
Ghani and Abdullah have each already claimed victory, raising fears of a repeat of what happened in the 2014 fraud-marred presidential election. The United States at the time had to intervene to help the two men negotiate a power-sharing deal, ending months of nationwide chaos.