KABUL: Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has agreed to rejoin an audit of the votes, the United Nations said yesterday, after tense negotiations to rescue the election amid a prolonged dispute over fraud.
The country’s first democratic transfer of power has been engulfed in fraud allegations, undermining international hopes that a smooth election would help vindicate the costly US-led military and civilian aid effort since 2001.
Abdullah’s representatives refused to attend the recount yesterday due to disagreements over how votes would be judged fraudulent or clean — throwing the election into further chaos.
But a deal was finalised later in the day, averting an imminent collapse of the process to choose President Hamid Karzai’s successor as Nato combat troops wind down their 13-year war against the Taliban.
Abdullah’s team “informed the United Nations that it will... resume its participation in the audit process tomorrow,” the UN said in a statement last evening.
More than eight million votes were cast on June 14, with Abdullah quickly lodging complaints that “industrial-scale” fraud had denied him victory over poll rival Ashraf Ghani.
The US ambassador in Kabul hailed Abdullah’s decision to rejoin the audit as a major step forward, adding that he expected the new Afghan president to be inaugurated at the end of August.
“It is very welcome news,” Ambassador James Cunningham said. “A lot of work has been done... so that the audit can go forward at a rapidly accelerated pace in the next couple of days.
“We hope very much that will happen starting tomorrow... with an outcome to be produced in the next coming weeks.”
The election battle between Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter, and Ghani, an ex-World Bank economist, has threatened to spark a spiral of instability as foreign troops pull out and violence increases nationwide.
After Abdullah rejected preliminary results that named Ghani as the easy winner, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Kabul and persuaded the two candidates to agree to the audit to sift out fraudulent votes.
Kerry’s intervention quashed growing fears that Abdullah was about to set up a “parallel government”, but the UN-supervised audit triggered another outbreak of disagreements.
Abdullah’s team also alleged yesterday that second Vice President Karim Khalili had been caught on tape saying that President Karzai was working illegally in favour of Ghani.
Karzai has vowed to stay neutral in the election.
“We hope that the two candidates will have an understanding that further delay is not in the interest of the country,” Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi said, adding the audit result was now due by August 25.
“The delay has had a negative impact on the economy, on the security situation, on public opinion,” he said. “Further delays could be very dangerous for the country.”
Abdullah believes he was also cheated of victory in the 2009 election when President Karzai retained power.
Karzai, who has ruled since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, is barred from standing for a third term in office.
In a grim reflection of unrest across Afghanistan, a UN report last month revealed that civilian casualties from the conflict soared by 24 percent in the first half of 2014.
Any street unrest by the candidates’ supporters would revive memories of the 1992-1996 civil war.
Abdullah draws most of his support from Tajiks and other northern Afghan groups, while Ghani’s support base is mainly among the Pashtun tribes of the south and east.