Afghanistan’s 10-week election crisis entered a risky new stage on Monday when officials started invalidating fraudulent votes in a process likely to bring to a head the bitter dispute between the presidential candidates. The country has been in paralysis since the June 14 election to choose the successor to President Hamid Karzai, who will step down as US-led NATO troops prepare to end their 13-year war against Taliban insurgents. Karzai has insisted that the delayed inauguration ceremony must be held on September 2, imposing a tough deadline that has raised tensions between supporters of poll rivals Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. The June vote was quickly mired in allegations of massive fraud, with Abdullah claiming that he had been denied victory after Ghani was declared ahead on preliminary results.
A smooth transition of power was meant to be the democratic keystone of the multi-billion dollar military and civilian aid effort in Afghanistan, but the impasse has emboldened the Afghan Taliban and weakened the fragile economy.
The anti-fraud audit of all eight million votes was agreed by both candidates as part of a US-brokered deal to calm tempers as fears rose of a return to the ethnic hatreds of the 1990s civil war.
“The IEC today begins the inspections of the audit result in an open session in the presence of national and international observers,” Abdul Rehman Hotaki, deputy chairman of the Independent Election Commission, told reporters.