The full audit of the about 8 million votes cast in the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential election will continue “without the direct physical engagement” of the two candidates’ observers, the United Nations said Wednesday.
The announcement came hours after Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who led April’s first-round vote but reportedly was losing in the initial count from the second round, ordered his team to stay away from the audit. Abdullah’s camp charged in a statement that the review was “built in a one-sided manner” favoring his rival, Ashraf Ghani.
Muslim Saadat, a spokesman for the Abdullah team, said there remained “a few points to find solutions to” in the audit process, but that talks between the Abdullah and Ghani camps were ongoing.
Nicholas Haysom, deputy special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for Afghanistan, announced that the audit would go on without observers from both camps. Haysom said one of the concerns raised by the Abdullah team would be given “serious consideration.” Neither he nor Saadat would elaborate on the unresolved issues.
So far, ballots in 72 boxes have invalidated and another 697 boxes have been sent for recount.
Haysom labeled as “regrettable” Abdullah’s boycott of post-election efforts to determine the winner, the third by his team since the June 14 runoff, but warned that “it will not disrupt the completion of a robust and critical audit.”
Though Ghani’s observers arrived at the Independent Election Commission's headquarters in time for the morning shift, they were eventually persuaded by the United Nations to leave the audit site.
Haysom said the change put a greater “premium on the participation of domestic and international observers.”
Daoud Sultanzoy, a former presidential candidate and leading member of the Ghani camp, said his team had agreed to the U.N.’s request to abstain but warned that it would be monitoring the process from afar.
“If we see signs of any deviations by U.N. and international observers that could tarnish our national interests,” Saltanzoy said, “we will hold them accountable.”
The audit was initially agreed upon by both candidates following a series of meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry last month after Abdullah had accused the Ghani campaign of widespread, government-assisted fraud.
Further meetings with Kerry this month led to an agreement to eventually form a national unity government. Haysom said he hoped negotiations around that unity government would continue and not be dependent upon “whether one is the winner or the loser.”
As the body overseeing the audit, the United Nations hopes to meet a proposed Sept. 2 date for inaugurating the next president. That would come only days before a NATO conference in Wales where continued assistance to Afghanistan is expected to dominate the agenda.
Latifi is a special correspondent.