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Presidential candidate threatens to boycott Afghan ballot audit

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah gestures during a gathering of his supporters in Kabul, July 8, 2014.

OMAR SOBHANI/REUTERS

One of the two men vying to become Afghanistan's next president is threatening to boycott a ballot audit from the country's disputed presidential runoff, his adviser said Tuesday, a development that could further disrupt the already troubled process.

The complicated, U.N.-supervised audit of the 8 million votes from the June presidential runoff was brokered by the U.S. in July as a way to end the fractious debate over who won the election.

The process followed allegations of vote fraud on both sides and is meant to decide whether Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, or former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai will replace President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Abdullah is apparently concerned that the audit has allegedly failed to invalidate a sufficient number of ballots so far that would correspond to the level of vote fraud his team claims has taken place.

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A top adviser for Mr. Abdullah told reporters on Tuesday that if Mr. Abdullah's concerns are not addressed by Wednesday morning, he will pull out of the audit.

"If our demands are not accepted, we will announce the end of this process," Fazel Ahmad Manawi said. "This process will not be acceptable to us and the result will not have any value."

Mr. Manawi said the election commission ignored their complaints about fraudulent ballots.

A spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, Noor Ahmad Noor, said the recount would proceed Wednesday regardless of whether Mr. Abdullah's team decided to take part.

The United Nations issued a lengthy statement pointing out the high level of input each team has had in the audit process and said the audit would continue even if one side pulls out.

A representative from Mr. Ahmadzai's campaign dismissed the boycott threat, saying they'd already made numerous concessions to Mr. Abdullah's side and that the fraud Mr. Abdullah has been alleging simply was not there. "They don't show up? So what?" Daoud Sultanzoy, who supervises the audit for the Ahmadzai team. "When people try to threaten stability in this country we should not accommodate them because of their threats."

If Mr. Abdullah's team goes through with their boycott threat, it raises concerns that his supporters would not consider the result to be valid and increases the likelihood of violence in what has already been a tense and lengthy election.

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Mr. Karzai has said the new president should be sworn in on Sept. 2, just two days ahead of a NATO summit to be held in Wales. The president has been trying to encourage both sides to overcome the impasse.

The lack of a new president has held up the signing of a security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan to allow its troops to stay in the country past the end of this year, when foreign forces are due to withdraw. Both candidates have promised to sign the agreement, which Mr. Karzai refused to sign.

On Monday, the election commission announced the first invalidations in the audit, saying results from 72 of the 3,645 polling stations it initially assessed have been completely invalidated. Nearly 700 more polling stations were partially invalidated.

There was no immediate information on how the invalidations would affect the election's result.

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