Afghanistan’s deadlocked presidential election was plunged into further turmoil Wednesday, as both run-off candidates pulled their observers from a U.N.-backed audit of votes.
The recount formed part of a U.S.-brokered deal to head off growing tension over the results of the national ballot between rivals Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, who have both claimed victory in the contest intended to mark the country's first democratic transfer of power.
Abdullah’s side said Thursday that the process was “full of fraud,” with the former foreign minister’s chief auditor adding: “We boycotted the audit process today because it is worthless for us.”
A few hours later, the United Nations asked former finance minister Ghani’s team to withdraw its observers in the interests of fairness.
Abdullah had earlier signaled his intention to pull out of the audit. He accuses those involved in the process of refusing to throw out fraudulent ballot papers and has demanded an independent investigation.
Allegations of vote fraud have long dogged the presidential election.
Liam McDowall, a spokesman for the United Nations in Kabul, confirmed that there had been a "temporary pause'' in the audit process but said monitors did not anticipate it would be a significant disruption.
Before the latest disruption, it is thought that auditors had checked around three-quarters of the ballots.
Under a U.S.-brokered plan, all the eight million ballots from the country's June presidential runoff are being looked at for fraud.
But the lengthy process risks there being prolonged instability and a possible power vacuum as the country prepares for a U.S. drawdown of troops.
"The biggest challenge for us in Afghanistan is this process is becoming a very, very long process, which is impacting not only the political process but also the Afghan economy," Haroun Mir, a political analyst base in Kabul, told Al Jazeera.
"The coffers of the Afghan government are empty. The Taliban have been attacking in 16 provinces, so the security situation has been deteriorating day by day and we have to find a solution as quickly as possible."
Al Jazeera and the Associated Press