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Alleged fraud halts progress in Afghan presidential election

July 2, 2014 at 6:41 PM EST
Weeks after a presidential runoff election in Afghanistan, uncertainty still reigns over who will be the country’s next leader. Preliminary results were delayed after continued allegations of fraud. Judy Woodruff takes a closer look at the standstill with Sean Carberry of NPR, reporting from Kabul.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Uncertainty still reigns in Afghanistan over who will be the country’s next leader, weeks after a presidential runoff election.

Preliminary results had been scheduled to be released today, but were delayed after continued allegations of fraud.

NPR reporter Sean Carberry has been covering the story from Kabul. And I spoke with him a short time ago.

Sean, thank you very much for talking with us.

First of all, fill us in on what’s happened today.

SEAN CARBERRY, NPR: Well, what actually didn’t happen today was the election commission didn’t release the preliminary results from the runoff election.

What they did announce is that they’re conducting an audit of about 1,900 ballot boxes, which consist of roughly a million-plus ballots that they’re reviewing. This audit was triggered by a determination that any ballot box containing more than 599 ballots, although the maximum number is 600, will be audited to make sure there was no fraud.

And this comes as a result of persistent calls by candidate Abdullah Abdullah, who has said from the moment the polls closed in the runoff election that there was widespread fraud against him. And he’s been pushing aggressively for measures such as this to conduct audits and evaluate the vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We know Abdullah has been calling on this for several days. Why did election officials finally agree to go ahead and have this recount?

SEAN CARBERRY: He has been. And it got to a point where he’s been releasing supposedly audio evidence, recordings of elections officials, other officials who were allegedly involved in coordinating fraud for the opponent, Ashraf Ghani.

So there’s been a building pressure from the Abdullah camp. It got to be point that the United Nations has stepped in and has been doing behind-the-scenes negotiations with the campaigns and with the elections commission to try to find a way forward, where Abdullah will eventually accept the results that are determined by the commission, whether or not the results show he won or Ashraf Ghani won.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So is Abdullah satisfied with the procedure at this point?

SEAN CARBERRY: He’s satisfied with this step. He’s sent a letter to the election commission with a number of demands, with a number of conditions for him to ultimately accept the outcome. So, this is one step. He says it’s a start.

But he wants to see a number of other audits. He wants to see a number of other measures taken to determine whether there was fraud and to remove fraudulent ballots. But he says, ultimately, if it gets to a point where the fraud has been excised from the vote count, he will accept the outcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, who, as you pointed out, had almost a million votes more than Abdullah in the runoff?

SEAN CARBERRY: Right.

Ashraf Ghani has basically been taking the high road since the vote. He’s been saying they won the election, they ran a better mobilization campaign before the runoff, they turned out more people, they won this fair and square, there is not widespread fraud on his behalf.

He’s been calling on Abdullah to honor the election commission process and procedure. He’s been critical of Abdullah’s pressure from outside the system and his withdrawal from the system. So he’s basically convinced that the numbers he’s seeing show that he is going to be the winner of this election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So is Ghani accepting this recount process? Will he abide by it?

SEAN CARBERRY: He is, grudgingly.

He last night sent out a press release calling on the election commission to release the results today, saying they must honor the time frame and respect the Afghan people by giving them the results. Today, his campaign softened a bit and said they are concerned with the ultimate transparency of the outcome.

Again, they believe there’s no fraud on their behalf, so they are accepting this, but they’re still continuing to put pressure on Abdullah and the election commission to adhere to the timelines and the procedures set out by Afghan law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, Sean, how long is all this supposed to take before we know the results?

SEAN CARBERRY: The final results are supposed to come out on July 22. After these preliminary results come out, which are now scheduled for Monday, there’s another appeal period, another fraud evaluation period, and final results are scheduled for July 22.

Afghan officials say that this delay in the preliminary results will not affect the timing of the release of the final results.

JUDY WOODRUFF: NPR’s Sean Carberry in Kabul, thank you very much.

SEAN CARBERRY: You’re welcome, Judy.