KABUL - Afghanistan's election commission on Saturday re-suspended the auditing process of 8.1 million votes cast in the presidential run-off poll, after the two candidates failed to agree on the procedure for invalidating votes.
"The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has decided to suspend temporarily the vote audit until the fourth day of Eid, and we hope it is enough time for the candidates to sort out their differences," the IEC chairman Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani told a press conference on Saturday.
The Muslim Eid festival which is expected to begin on Monday or Tuesday marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The audit of all 8.1 million ballots cast in the June 14 run-off was agreed by rival candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, following a deal brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The IEC had said it would take around three weeks, with teams working in two shifts auditing around 1,000 ballot boxes a day. But since the start of the process, in which hundreds of national and international observers have crammed into the IEC in Kabul to separate fraudulent ballots from clean ones, the audit has been lagging behind schedule.
Observers from both sides have walked out from time to time disagreeing over which are the clean and the unclean votes. "The votes audit goes very slowly, the representatives of the candidates have walked out of the auditing process for the third time in the past ten days over differences of opinion," Nuristani said Saturday.
This has raised concerns that the original three-week estimate for completing the process is insufficient, and that the audit could take until late August to finish. That in turn would further push back the already delayed inauguration of the new Afghan president.
Abdullah had claimed massive fraud and disputed preliminary results that gave Ghani a one million-vote lead, plunging Afghanistan into a deepening crisis and raising fears of violence.