KABUL — A growing number of Western officials are calling for an audit of the ballots cast in the Afghan presidential election, increasing the likelihood that the nation’s electoral commission will have to formally reassess the June 14 runoff vote even as it prepares to announce preliminary results.
Since Afghans voted in the runoff election, the system has been deadlocked by allegations of widespread fraud. The presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has consistently complained that his opponent, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, with the help of the commission and other Afghan officials, rigged the vote.
While Abdullah has spent weeks threatening to walk away from the process, his brinkmanship now appears to be paying off. The continued political crisis has forced some international figures to take action, despite earlier efforts to avoid the appearance of involvement in the Afghan elections.
Abdullah has prodded his government and the international community to get involved. He has called the system illegitimate, staged protests, and leaked numerous tapes purporting to show election officials conspiring to rig the election in favor of Ahmadzai.
Now, seemingly recognizing the potential that the political crisis could turn violent and threaten Western interests in Afghanistan, more international officials are getting involved. The most recent voice was that of Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who spoke to reporters in Kabul Sunday.
Joined by the US ambassador, James B. Cunningham, Levin raised the prospect of a dual announcement on Monday in which Afghan officials would release preliminary results and announce an audit that would be satisfactory to both candidates. Just hours later, however, Abdullah pressed the commission to delay the release until fraudulent ballots have been identified and discarded. While there have been no official results, leaked reports suggested that Ahmadzai had reversed Abdullah’s lead from the first round and was ahead in the vote count.
Officials from Abdullah’s campaign indicated the two sides had not reached an agreement on the extent of the audit.
It was unclear whether the election commission would go through with the release, as promised. The commission has delayed results on more than one occasion to help ease the political crisis.
Levin, who warned of dire consequences if the election did not proceed, was the latest US official to visit Kabul in the past few weeks. Ambassador James Dobbins, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan who said last week he was stepping down, was recently in town to urge the candidates to stick with the process.
But perhaps the most direct, and first, admonition came from the European Union, which released an extremely strong statement suggesting that an initial audit of 1,930 polling centers was insufficient to unearth all of the fraud.