Afghan polls: Troubled counting slides into deadlock

KABUL, Afghanistan

Much to the anxiety of war-weary Afghan voters, the country’s landmark presidential polls have entered a vicious quagmire amid flared-up differences over the counting process.

Already behind schedule by weeks, the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan began the much-awaited yet disputed recount of votes on Sunday amid the staunch quarrel of the rival candidates.

Rivals contest counting process, unlike incumbent president

Among the top four perceived front-runners, only the State Builder camp by the incumbent President Ashraf Ghani is content with the progress of the announcement of the preliminary polls while rest of his three main rivals, the power-sharing Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and former spymaster Rehmatullah Nabil have all joined the bandwagon of crying foul.

Although the rival candidates have not agreed to join hands for a formal alliance, they remain on the same page in calling for a halt to the recount of votes until all the votes are not separated between the biometrically verified genuine votes and the fake votes balloted with ambiguous biometric verification or without any verification.

“A powerful commission or court must be formed, consulting with the presidential candidates, to investigate the election crimes and fraud,” Hekmatyar demanded on Monday as he cast doubt over the ability of the country’s legal system in investigating the alleged rigging.

The veteran politician claimed up to 44% of the total votes cast in the Sept. 28 elections are “fraudulent”, which amounts to about 1.2 million votes.

The head of Hezb-e-Islami party — who fought against the west-backed government in Kabul for years before entering a peace deal with Ghani in 2016 — even demanded fresh polls under an interim set-up.

Among the challenging candidates, Abdullah was the first to denounce the recount and threaten not to accept the outcome.

The three-time runner-up for the top post gathered hundreds of his supporters in Kabul over the weekend in a rally to make his concerns heard.

“Some people have filled the ballot boxes on the night of polls and are now using the technical glitches as an excuse and insist upon the recount ahead of the sorting process”, Abdullah said in a clear reference to his opposite team of State Builder.

He vowed not to engage in talks for a unity government as he did in 2014, and promised instead to defend “each and every vote”.

Haunting memories of early troubled polls

When the country was pushed to the edge of disorder amid withdrawal of some 100,000 foreign troops, the hastily executed presidential polls delivered a weak and divided National Unity Government in 2014.

The lengthy and stressful electoral process of the Sept. 28 polls has frustrated and angered many in the country. Only some 1.9 million voters cast ballots in the country with over 9 million eligible voters, according to the official estimates.

Ali Khail, a Kabul-based retired teacher, told Anadolu Agency that he regrets taking part in this “shameful process” in the first place.

“We saw nothing good emerge from the 2014 presidential elections and nor from these elections except divisions, hatred, and fears spread by the politicians”, he said.

The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan was supposed to announce the final results on Nov. 7 for the polls in which a total of 13 candidates vied for the top seat, but it is yet to produce the preliminary poll results.

The top election body secretariat said in a fresh tweet on Monday that the recount at the provincial level is going on in full swing in a bid to ensure no further delay is caused in the announcement of results.

The IEC is recounting votes in a total of 8,255 disputed polling stations across the provinces with the aim to come-up with the preliminary results.
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