KABUL, Afghanistan — In a new setback to Afghanistan's troubled presidential election process, plans to resume a suspended full-ballot audit Saturday were aborted when one of the two finalists refused to participate, instead demanding more changes in the examination aimed at rooting out alleged widespread fraud in the June 14 polling.
The move embarrassed U.N. officials, who had just announced confidently that the inspection would begin after three weeks of disputes and delays. It was also a potential blow to the deal brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry last month, in which both candidates agreed to the audit and to some form of power sharing after its results are announced.
Over the weekend, hundreds of international monitors arrived in the Afghan capital to monitor the audit. It was part of a high-profile effort to salvage a political transition with high-stakes consequences for Afghanistan's future stability and its relations with Washington and other Western powers, which backed it through a decade of post-Taliban struggles with massive amounts of military and financial support.
Jan Kubis, head of the U.N. political mission here, declared Friday that "any delays, any uncertainties would have a major negative impact" on the country's future.
But by midmorning Saturday, it was clear that something was amiss. The high-security facility where thousands of ballot boxes have been collected was still nearly empty of people. Aides to one candidate, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, arrived to start observing the audit, but no one associated with his rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, appeared.
"They were the ones who asked for the audit, and now they're not showing up for it," complained Daoud Sultanzoy, a Ahmadzai campaign aide who arrived at the Independent Election Commission compound at 7 a.m.
But senior aides to Abdullah, who spent the day negotiating behind closed doors with U.N. officials, insisted they had legitimate grievances about the audit.
Kubis said Saturday that the audit would be delayed by only one more day, saying that Abdullah's campaign had requested the extra time for "clarifications" on the audit process.