U.S. demands a thorough audit after Afghans announce Ahmadzai is leading in presidential race.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Despite accusations of widespread fraud and threats of protests, Afghanistan’s election commission announced preliminary presidential runoff results Monday, then followed them with a huge caveat: that there was no winner yet, with the prospect that millions of votes would be subjected to a special audit for fraud.
In an announcement delayed for hours by negotiations, the country’s Independent Election Commission reported that Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was more than a million votes ahead of Abdullah Abdullah, with a total of more than 8.1 million votes counted.
That tally was far higher than previously estimated, and immediately cast even more doubt on an election already marred by weeks of conflict and accusations.
The U.S. State Department, in its most strongly worded statement on the election yet, emphasized that the preliminary results were “not final or authoritative” and demanded that Afghan election officials “implement a thorough audit whether or not the two campaigns agree.”
“A full and thorough review of all reasonable allegations of irregularities is essential to ensure that the Afghan people have confidence in the integrity of the electoral process and that the new Afghan president is broadly accepted,” the statement said.
11,000 votes already out
Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, chairman of the election commission, said that before the announcement Monday, the commission had thrown out more than 11,000 votes from 1,930 polling stations. About 60 percent of the votes disqualified had been cast in favor of Ahmadzai, he said, with the reminder cast for Abdullah.
In addition, the two candidates had agreed for votes from nearly another third of the country’s 22,000 polling stations to be set aside for a special audit to spot fraudulent votes, he said. It will now be up to the separate Election Complaints Commission, which is charged with adjudicating electoral disputes, to conduct the inquiry.
The commission said later Monday that it was ready to do the audit on top of complaints it was already adjudicating, if the campaigns requested it. But no such request had been made yet, said Nader Mohseni, a commission spokesman.
“There is no winner yet,” Nuristani cautioned as he made the announcement.
Neither Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official, nor Abdullah, an influential opposition politician and former foreign minister, offered immediate reaction to the announcement, which came after the two sides spent hours trying to thrash out an agreement on how many polling stations would be audited. U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham and Jan Kubis, the U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan, took part in the meetings.
It was not clear whether the two campaigns had reached any agreement. The number of stations to be audited, about 7,000, appeared to be lower than what the Abdullah campaign had been pressing for, and the campaign officials expressed displeasure without elaborating.
After the announcement of the preliminary results, Nuristani told reporters, “There is no doubt that the negotiation between the candidates continues.”
But he did not provide any specifics about the talks, or where each side stood on Monday’s announcement.