The planned release of preliminary results from the runoff vote in Afghanistan's presidential election will probably be postponed, a spokesman said Tuesday, a move that comes as officials struggle to resolve an impasse over fraud allegations.
Abdullah Abdullah, one of the two candidates vying to replace President Hamid Karzai, has warned he would boycott the results as he claims that supporters of his rival Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai engineered fraud in the June 14 balloting.
The crisis has undermined Western hopes for a smooth transfer of power ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. and allied combat troops by the end of this year. Both candidates have promised to sign a security pact with the Obama administration that would allow nearly 10,000 American forces to remain in the country in a training capacity and to conduct counterterrorism operations. A disruption in the announcement of election results could mean another delay in finalizing that agreement, which was rebuffed by Karzai.
According to the official timetable, initial results are due Wednesday and final results are due on July 22, with the inauguration date for the new president scheduled for Aug. 2.
Mr. Abdullah won the first round of voting on April 5 by a large margin, but he says his campaign monitors recorded widespread ballot box stuffing and other efforts to rig the vote in Mr. Ahmadzai's favour. He wants a new vote to be held in five provinces where the bulk of the fraud allegations were made.
"Now there is a time, there is a space, because of the delay," Mr. Abdullah told Agence France-Presse in an interview at his heavily-fortified residence in Kabul. He added: "Almost everybody now agrees there has been industrial-scale fraud ... The outcome will not be considered legitimate if that is not being taken care of."
Mr. Ahmadzai's campaign has denied any involvement in fraud and said it also registered complaints about irregularities but would respect the constitutional process.
Mr. Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official, also earlier called on Mr. Abdullah to rejoin the process and demanded that the commission stick to the official timetable. His spokesman, Abbas Noyan, said the campaign would have no objection to a delay of the preliminary results. "It's good for the transparency of the election and our votes were very clean," he said. "We hope swearing-in ceremony will be held on Aug. 2 as planned."
The spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, Noor Mohammad Noor, said Tuesday that the panel is considering a possible postponement of the announcement because it still needs to audit results from 1,930 polling stations in 30 of 34 provinces. There were 23,000 polling stations nationwide.
"There are 1,930 polling stations in 30 provinces that still need to be audited and that will take time," he said in a telephone interview. He said the audits were focusing on polling stations where massive ballot box stuffing was reported.
The election commission was holding meetings to discuss the issue, officials said.
Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, has invited more than 40 world leaders and a number of international organizations to participate in the Aug. 2 inauguration, according to ministry spokesman Ahmad Shakib Mustaghni.
With a report from Agence France-Presse