As the candidates wrangle over alleged fraud, the Afghan election commission has delayed election results until Monday. But Thijs Berman, the EU's chief election observer, has doubts about the quality of the fraud probe.
There are growing concerns that Afghanistan's presidential election could produce a contested result following the postponement of preliminary results until July 7. Votes from around 2,000 polling stations in the June 14 runoff are set to be reviewed and recounted as part of an investigation by the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) into allegations of massive fraud.
The runoff vote, which comes at a critical time in the country as foreign troops prepare to leave in the coming months, pitted former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah against ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, and has been widely regarded as a major step in the country's democratic transition. But with both candidates claiming to have won the poll on clean votes, and neither seemingly prepared to accept defeat, hopes of a smooth handover of power in the war-torn country may soon be tarnished.
Thijs Berman, the EU's chief election observer in Afghanistan, says in a DW interview he believes the IEC audit currently being undertaken is proceeding too fast and is limited in its capacity to detect fraud, with officials failing to carefully examine each ballot box. Berman believes this could undermine the credibility of the result.
DW: Why has the announcement of the preliminary election results been postponed?
Thijs Berman: The IEC has rightly chosen to postpone the announcement of the preliminary results in order to be able to perform an audit focusing on those polling stations with an exceptionally high turnout. However, the choice of the IEC to audit only polling stations with 599 votes and over significantly limits the possible detection of fraud.
This is why the EU Election Assessment Team believes that an additional in-depth audit of the votes is necessary, given the highly worrying indications of potentially widespread fraud. The audit could reasonably be extended to all polling stations with for instance, 595 votes and above, still a high turnout but slightly lower than 599, and a criterion which could detect possible fraud on a wider scale.
We estimate that other aspects of the results could be examined, such as highly improbable votes for one single candidate in polling stations, or unlikely discrepancies between female and male votes.
Putting all these aspects together, the number of problematic polling stations could well exceed 6,000 out of a total of 22,828, according to IEC figures. Therefore, we consider that additional measures will be necessary to detect and eliminate potentially fraudulent votes in order to increase the credibility of the results and respect the democratic choice of Afghan voters.
Have you witnessed any irregularities in the fraud investigations?
We are of the opinion that the IEC audit currently being performed is going too fast, with officials not examining carefully each ballot box. Our observers have seen with their own eyes how fast each ballot box is being checked without giving enough time to ensure the veracity of each vote.
This has been the case in Kabul where we have observers present and I am concerned about the process in provinces where there are no observers. I would say the audit should be extended to other factors to improve its quality.
The IEC could also extend the investigation to polling stations with a very high score for candidates. If we do that, the amount of polling stations to be checked would be much higher, we've told by the IEC about this.
Would this more thorough investigation further delay the announcement of the results?
We believe that a more in-depth investigation does not necessarily take much more time, perhaps a few more days only. But it is up to the IEC to decide what, when and how it will perform audits. In my view, if you're given the choice between a credible outcome - with a few days delay - that could lead to a stable Afghanistan and an outcome that is highly contested, I would chose the first.
In the interest of Afghan voters, and of the future stability of the country, a credible outcome is essential. I hope that the IEC will be able, in agreement with both candidates, to perform a more in-depth audit. This is technically possible without much delay and would be completed in time for the inauguration of the new president on August 2.
Moreover, we hope that the online publication of detailed preliminary results per polling station, to which the IEC has publicly committed itself, will contribute to the transparency, credibility and acceptance of the outcome of this presidential election.
As a consequence, wouldn't the current audit process lead to concerns about the accuracy of the results?
Given some of the declarations of the presidential candidates, it is obvious that there are concerns about the accuracy of the results and the electoral process. This is why, in order to build confidence, it would be highly recommendable to extend the audit. According to figures given to us by the IEC, potentially up to a quarter of the polling throughout the country would need a more thorough investigation. I find these to be worryingly high figures.
What is your take on the widespread fraud allegations made by presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah?
"We estimate that other aspects of the results could be examined, such as highly improbable votes for one single candidate in polling stations", says Berman
Both candidates see the necessity to get out of the current political deadlock. As a politician myself, I would suggest that they gather around the table, agree on proper procedures and be realistic. This could open the way for an agreement on the path to follow.
It is up to the IEC to decide what is needed. The candidates can make suggestions and if they do it together, these suggestions will be taken into account. I don't doubt this for one second. I spoke with President Karzai about this and his staff members are speaking with the candidates to this end.
Thijs Berman is a Dutch member of the European Parliament and chief observer of the European Union Election Assessment Team in Afghanistan. He has also been chief observer of the EU Election Observation Missions in Afghanistan (2009), Ethiopia (2010) and Senegal (2012).