Afghanistan’s audit of millions of ballots from the presidential runoff vote is being slowed down by disputes. But Thijs Berman, the EU’s chief election observer, tells DW what matters is that the audit is done properly. It’s only been a few days since Afghanistan began an audit of more than eight million votes cast in the June 14 runoff presidential election but the process has already been marred by walkouts by both sides. Although the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said that the process would take around three weeks, with teams working in two shifts to audit around 1,000 ballot boxes a day, the exercise may take longer than expected as the two sides still appear at odds over the ground rules for the audit. The audit had been agreed upon by rival presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani following Abdullah’s claims of massive fraud, which had threatened to plunge the conflict-ridden country into a political crisis. The agreement, brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry, comes at a crucial time as the United States, Afghanistan’s biggest foreign donor, prepares to withdraw most of its combat troops by the end of this year. Thijs Berman, the chief election observer of the EU Election Assessment Team (EAT) in Afghanistan, says in a DW interview, that it is not uncommon for audits to lead to discussions, especially over ‘suspect votes’, and adds that the important thing is that the audit is conducted properly.
DW: What was the main reason for the latest suspension of the electoral audit?
Thijs Berman: It is quite understandable that the audit leads to discussions, when votes are judged suspicious. In recent days, there have been such discussions on several hundreds of votes in the Kabul area, all ticked the same way, with the same pen.
Everyone concluded these votes were obviously fraudulent, and they were put in ‘quarantine’ subsequently. This is perhaps difficult to accept for the candidate concerned, but I sincerely hope that both will show restraint and full acceptance of the rules of the audit.
What constitutes a ‘suspect’ vote?
For instance, suspicion is raised when whole packs of votes are ticked the same way, as described above; or when the result form of a ballot box does not have the same figures as a recount of the votes in the box. Also, a very high number of voters in one area may lead to questions, if in neighboring areas the turnout is much lower.