Sample audit in Afghan vote begins

KABUL: Afghan authorities began a sample audit of suspect ballots in the controversial elections today, officials said, as the country inches closer to a final decision on the next president.

Afghans went to the polls on August 20 to elect their president for the next five years, but allegations of widespread fraud — mainly directed against the incumbent Hamid Karzai — have delayed the announcement of a winner.

Karzai leads the preliminary results with around 55 per cent of the vote.

He needs 50 per cent plus one vote to be declared the winner. His main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, has around 28 per cent and has been at the forefront of vote-rigging accusations against Karzai.

Pivotal to the final outcome is the result of the audit of 3,498 ballot boxes — up from 3,063, an official said — that have been returned to Kabul from polling stations across the country for checking.

Ten percent of ballots in those boxes are being examined by Independent Election Commission (IEC) auditors, officials said, adding that results would be extrapolated from the sample. Auditing was supposed to have begun on Saturday but was delayed, partly due to political wrangling between the two electoral oversight bodies and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), a source at the IEC said.

The audit is expected to take two days, after which the IEC and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) must fulfil other formalities before a final result can be declared.

Zekria Barakzai, Afghanistan’s deputy chief electoral officer, said the final result is not likely before the end of next week. He said that following the audit, “How many votes are fraudulent will be deducted proportionally from all the candidates’ votes” — a process that would see the percentage of valid votes held by each candidates remain the same.

The ECC, which has broken the sample into six categories, said “the presence of clear and convincing evidence of fraud” in the sampled ballots would allow it to determine the

incidence of fraud in all votes in the same category.

The fraud accusations dogging the vote have dismayed leaders of the international community.