Afghanistan’s tenuous deal to resolve its presidential election crisis fell into jeopardy over the weekend when an ambitious audit was halted just days after it began. Election workers began looking for irregularities before agreeing rules about which ballots should be thrown out, but a dispute over invalidation led one audit team to walk out of the recount on Saturday afternoon, Afghan and foreign sources said. The team agreed to go back to work nearly 24 hours later, but still do not have a deal on what constitutes fraud. Progress has been slow for a country that has been in a dangerous political limbo for months. After three days of counting, the audit teams of election workers, international and Afghan observers and agents for the two presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, had only made their way through 435 boxes of ballot papers. With more than 22,000 boxes to be checked in the unprecedented recount of all votes cast, the teams must speed up dramatically or Afghanistan will not have a new president until 2015.
The economy has been left on hold by months of election wrangling, and foreign security support vital to holding off the Taliban will only be available if there is a new leader by the autumn.
Hamid Karzai, the outgoing president, has refused to sign a long-term security deal with the US, despite widespread backing from senior Afghans and Washington’s clear warning that without it all forces will leave by the end of this year.
The two candidates are feuding over how many votes to throw out. Ghani, a former World Bank technocrat who is leading in preliminary results, wants a cautious approach to elimination, arguing that the young democracy cannot afford to disenfranchise voters.