KABUL, Afghanistan — A growing number of Western officials are calling for an audit of the ballots cast in the Afghan presidential election, increasing the likelihood that the nation’s electoral commission will have to formally reassess the June 14 runoff vote even as it prepares to announce preliminary results.
Ever since Afghans voted in the runoff election, the system has been deadlocked by allegations of widespread fraud. The presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has consistently complained that his opponent, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, with the help of the commission and other Afghan officials, rigged the vote.
While Abdullah has spent weeks threatening to walk away from the process, his brinkmanship appears to be paying off. The political crisis has forced international figures to take action, despite earlier efforts to avoid the appearance of involvement in the elections.
Abdullah has called the system illegitimate, staged protests and leaked numerous tapes purporting to show election officials conspiring to rig the election in favor of Ahmadzai.
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Now, seemingly recognizing the potential that the political crisis has to turn violent and threaten long-term Western interests in Afghanistan, more international officials are starting to get involved. The most recent voice was that of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who spoke to reporters in Kabul on Sunday.
Joined by the U.S. ambassador, James Cunningham, Levin raised the prospect of a dual announcement on Monday, in which Afghan officials would both release preliminary results and announce an audit.
Just hours later, however, Abdullah pressed the commission to delay the release until fraudulent ballots have been identified and discarded. Officials from his campaign also indicated that the two sides had not reached an agreement on the extent of the audit.
It was unclear whether the election commission would go through with the release. The commission has delayed results on more than one occasion to ease the political crisis.
James Dobbins — the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan — was recently in town to urge the candidates to stick with the process.
After Dobbins came two Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who encouraged a thorough audit and also made clear that U.S. aid for Afghanistan would almost certainly dry up if the political crisis was not resolved.
But perhaps the most direct, and first, admonition came from the European Union, which released an extremely strong statement suggesting that an initial audit of 1,930 polling centers was insufficient to unearth all of the fraud.