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Afghan Votes Will Be Audited, Extending Monthslong Election Crisis

Despite cries from opposition candidates of irregularities in the September vote, the country’s election commission in December declared the incumbent president Ashraf Ghani in the lead, with a margin of less than 1 percent over the minimum 50 percent required for victory. The opposition tickets, disputing roughly 15 percent of the total vote count, appealed to the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission, which adjudicates candidate objections before a final result is announced. After weeks of sifting through more than 20,000 complaints, the panel on Wednesday ordered a partial audit of nearly 240,000 votes from the roughly 1.8 million votes cast, essentially keeping the final results hanging in the balance. Many analysts fear that the crisis over the vote could stretch for weeks, because the audit will be carried out by the same election commission that opposition candidates had accused of mismanagement and of favoring Ghani. Ghani’s supporters, in return, accuse the opposition of playing an obstruction game, challenging his victory so they can get a share in the government. The political crisis continues amid sensitive peace negotiations to end the long war in Afghanistan. Taliban officials and American negotiators have been meeting for weeks trying to finalize a peace deal that was torpedoed by US President Trump last September just as the two sides were ready to sign. The United States is demanding that the Taliban significantly reduce its attacks before the two sides make their agreement final. A deal between Washington and the Taliban, which would also involve the gradual withdrawal of the remaining American troops, would open the way for negotiations between the insurgents and other Afghans, including Ghani’s government, over power sharing. Trump has made no secret of his desire to significantly reduce the American troop presence in Afghanistan — whether there is a peace deal or not. In his State of the Union speech, he said peace talks were continuing and reiterated his desire to end the war. “We are working to finally end America’s longest war and bring our troops back home,” Trump said, The New York Times reported. Sayed Qutbuddin Roydar, a member of the election complaints commission, said the panel decided to partially audit disputed categories that add up to about 240,000 votes after a long period of deliberation. “The election commission says the votes are legitimate, and the complainers are saying no — the votes are not legitimate,” Roydar said. “We have doubts about the election commission’s decisions — and to consider those votes valid, we have imposed these conditions and ordered the audit so we can convince the complainers and assure ourselves.” While some analysts welcomed the panel’s diligence in requiring more information before making a decision on a slice of votes that could decide the election, others said the process had dragged so long it was becoming a joke. “Nowhere have we seen results take this long,” said Mohammad Naeem Ayubzada, head of the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan, a civil society organization. “In Afghanistan, unfortunately, the technical aspects of the election have also become tools for political agendas — and that means people no longer have faith.”

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