Seemingly endless squabbles are interrupted by full-scale shouting matches. Campaign aides mutter suspiciously about what foreign visitors might be up to. And ballot boxes are piling up, waiting to be cracked open and examined for signs of fraud. In two spartan, stifling warehouses on the edge of Kabul, hundreds of Afghans, Americans and Europeans are engaged in a last-ditch attempt to salvage an acceptably democratic result from an election dispute that has been tumbling toward a street fight, or worse. They are auditing all of the roughly eight million ballots cast in last month’s presidential runoff, trying to separate fraud from fact. But a week into the process, the audit has engendered little confidence, and is already desperately behind schedule.Only 4.5 percent of the roughly 22,000 ballot boxes had been examined by Wednesday. Each day has seemed to yield some new dispute or confusion that has put on the brakes. Does writing “insh’allah” — God willing — next to the name of a candidate on a ballot constitute a legitimate vote? Is it proper for campaign representatives to move between tables, urging colleagues to argue harder? And who was that tall, bearded foreigner with no badge?
On Wednesday, the audit was suspended outright for the second time in seven days so that Afghan and Western officials and representatives of the rival campaigns could hash out the rules under which the auditing is supposed to be conducted — rules that were supposed to have been established a week ago. Western and Afghan officials said this should allow the audit to resume Thursday at a speedier pace.
In the balance is an election that opened almost four months ago with the encouraging sight of millions of Afghans turning out to vote despite bad weather and the threat of Taliban violence.