Mon, Jul 14, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Afghan presidential rivals agree to audit

SECTARIAN SURPRISE:US Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a deal that many hoped would defuse the potential for sectarian violence after a contested election

AFP, KABUL

US Secretary of State John Kerry, with Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah, left, and Ashraf Ghani, right, speaks at a press conference in Kabul on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Afghanistan’s two presidential rivals have agreed to a historic deal to audit all 8 million votes cast in the disputed election after two days of intense shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

An audible gasp rippled through a packed press conference held on Saturday at the UN’s headquarters in Kabul as Kerry made the surprise announcement after hours of waiting, saying that vote checking would begin within the next 24 hours.

Both former Afghan minister of finance Ashraf Ghani and former minister of foreign affairs Abdullah Abdullah have vowed to stand by the results of the audit, with the winner to be declared the country’s next president, who is to immediately begin work to form a national unity government.

The first ballots to be audited will be those gathered already in Kabul, while ballot boxes from all the country’s provinces will be brought under high security to the Afghan capital by NATO and Afghan security forces and kept under tight guard.

Ghani, Abdullah and Kerry joined hands at the end of the news conference and raised them in triumph after securing the breakthrough, which follows a bitter standoff that raised fears of fresh violence along ethnic lines.

The deadlock over the run-off vote to choose a successor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai plunged the country into political crisis and dented US hopes of a smooth transfer of power, as Washington seeks to withdraw all its troops by late 2016.

Initial results of the second-round vote released on Monday last week put Ghani in the lead, but Abdullah — who has already once lost a presidential bid under controversial circumstances — declared himself the winner, saying mass fraud robbed him of victory.

“Both candidates have committed to participate in and abide by the results of the largest, most comprehensive possible audit. Every single ballot that was cast will be audited, 100 percent,” Kerry told the news conference, which had been delayed by six hours due to the last-minute shuttle diplomacy.

“This is the strongest possible signal by both candidates of the desire to restore legitimacy to the process and to Afghan democracy. The winner will serve as president and will immediately form a government of national unity,” he said.

Yet the new count will take time and Kerry said that Karzai had agreed to delay the inauguration that had been due on Aug. 2.

“Let there be no doubt — in keeping with each of the candidate’s requests, this audit will be conducted in accordance with the highest international standards,” Kerry said.

Former World Bank economist Ghani, who lagged well behind Abdullah in the first round vote in April, urged Afghans to be patient.

“We will abide by the will of the people. We will not defend any single fraudulent vote,” he said.

Abdullah said the two sides had reached a “technical and political agreement.”

“I hope this is for the benefit of Afghan people,” he said.

British Secretary of Foreign Affairs William Hague congratulated the two candidates “for putting the interests of the Afghan people first.”

“I hope the audit of all the votes will enable Afghans to have confidence in the electoral process and its outcome,” he said.

Underlining the parlous security situation, as the leaders met in Kabul a roadside bomb in the restive southern province of Kandahar, the Taliban heartland, killed eight civilians.

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