Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission on Monday began reviewing ballots for signs of fraud more than two months after the disputed second round of the nation’s presidential election.
Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah, who has alleged the election was stolen, have agreed to abide by the results of the review and to form a government of national unity.
The commission’s review was carried out in front of international observers and media representatives.
Of 3,645 ballot boxes reviewed Monday, 72 from several provinces were deemed invalid, while 697 were sent for a recount because of problems such as broken seals, results forms that did not reconcile with the contents of the box or improperly and similarly marked ballots. The contents of the remaining 2,876 boxes were deemed authentic.
The commission did not provide details on the invalidated boxes, such as where they came from or how many votes they contained. The panel said the audit probably will take 10 days.
The boxes requiring a recount were relocated for a determination of whether their ballots will be wholly or partly invalidated.
The process comes more than a month after Ghani and Abdullah, with U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry at their side, called for a full audit of all 8 million votes cast in the June 14 runoff.
Jan Kubis, the United Nations special representative to Afghanistan, welcomed the review as a further step toward a more transparent election outcome.
“The first set of official decisions from this unprecedented audit is an important milestone toward the goal of separating fraud from valid votes,” said Kubis, who was at the meeting between Kerry, Abdullah and Ghani that led to the audit.
On Sunday evening, the teams of Afghan and international observers, including representatives from both campaigns, completed their review of all ballot boxes deemed “normal.”
A further 6,000 boxes — 3,000 selected by each team as raising cause for concern — were identified for extra scrutiny.
The second round of the nation’s presidential polls had been long marred with accusations of widespread, systematic fraud.
The inauguration of the new president had already been postponed from August. Outgoing President Hamid Karzai is hoping to have the new leader in place by Sept. 2, which would come only days before continued assistance to Afghanistan is to be discussed at a NATO summit in Wales.
Latifi is a special correspondent.