Los Angeles Times, 28 August, 2014
Inside the hot, musty airplane hangar where international officials were supervising Afghanistan’s presidential election recount, the rival camps had sparred for days until the tension finally boiled over.
The Aug. 19 altercation was the most serious of several fights that interrupted the recount effort, which was introduced with fanfare last month by Secretary of State John F. Kerry but has been plagued by delays, mistrust and violence that have frustrated U.S. hopes of a smooth transition of political power in Afghanistan.
Abdullah withdrew his observers from the recount process Wednesday, alleging that the audit of all 8 million ballots from June’s runoff was “built in a one-sided manner” favoring his rival, Ashraf Ghani. U.N. officials then persuaded Ghani’s team to pull out its observers to maintain the appearance of impartiality, saying the review would continue without either team’s representatives present.
The developments have cast doubt on the viability of a national unity government including members of both campaigns, which Obama administration officials believe is crucial to ensuring political stability as the United States withdraws most of its troops from Afghanistan by year's end.
U.S. officials in Kabul held meetings with the candidates and said that both men remained committed to forming a unity government, which envisions the president sharing executive powers with the runner-up.
“Both teams have high-level stakeholders who are out to secure their personal and political interests,” said Abdullah Azada Khenjani, news director at 1TV, a leading private television network in Kabul.
For many Afghans, a government that makes space for both teams seems similar to what they’ve seen before. While both candidates have pledged to stamp out corruption, which has mushroomed during President Hamid Karzai’s 12-year administration, their teams are composed of many of the same power brokers whom Karzai had to appease in order to maintain stability.
Many Afghans have grown disillusioned with an election that began with promise in April, when the first round of voting featured robust turnout and few major accusations of fraud.
International monitors brought in by the U.N. were given only advisory roles, but they constantly faced accusations from the rival camps. One Abdullah observer told a U.N. monitor, “I don’t know how much the Ashraf Ghani team is paying you.”
The U.N. observers were sometimes shocked by the apparent fraud. Looking at the results from one ballot box in the eastern province of Paktika, which showed 594 votes for Ghani and six for Abdullah, a foreign observer said: “This wouldn’t even be possible in the Soviet Union.”
Experts say the messy process could benefit the man being replaced. “If these two do a bad job, if they make the situation worse, Karzai can come back and say: ‘See, I was the only one who could run this country properly,’” Ali said.