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US official: accuracy more important than speed as Afghan vote count continues

Ambassador Kenneth Juster Hosts tea for Alice Wells, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs - January 18, 2018. (U.S. Embassy New Delhi/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A top U.S. official has called for patience as Afghanistan attempts to finalize counting of its September 28 election results following last weekend’s delay.

Alice Wells, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said on October 24 after a visit to Kabul that all major candidates had vowed to accept the results.

“I stressed the need for a transparent and credible tallying process and for the ability of Afghanistan’s electoral institutions to lead the process without pressure or interference,” she told reporters after returning to Washington.

“At this stage, accuracy in tabulating the results is more important than speed, and I encouraged all candidates to exercise restraint and to await the official announcement of election results,” she said.

Preliminary results from the presidential election were expected to be reported on October 19 but were delayed by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC).

IEC chief Hawa Alam Nuristani told a Kabul news conference that the delay would “further ensure the transparency of the [electoral] process” and “restore the people’s confidence in it.”

“Unfortunately, because of some technical issues and for transparency, we could not announce the results based on the election timetable,” she said.

Election officials reported trouble from the beginning in collecting and transferring massive amounts of information to the main IEC computer server from biometric devices used to record voter fingerprints and pictures. A time-consuming exercise of identifying fraudulent votes was cited as another major factor for the slow data entry.

All of the previous elections in Afghanistan held since the Taliban government was forced out in 2001 have been marred by allegations of fraud, leading the IEC to use biometric devices for the first time.

The commission vowed to release the preliminary results as soon as possible but did not give a possible date.

Two senior IEC members had told VOA the results would likely be delayed a week.

The presidential election was beset by violence and accusations of fraud.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on October 15 said 85 people were killed and another 373 wounded in election violence during the period from June 8 to September 30.

On polling day alone, 28 civilians were killed and 249 injured. Children accounted for more than one-third of the victims.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insisted on holding the controversial vote despite the abrupt collapse in U.S.-Taliban peace talks earlier in September.

Fifteen candidates were on the ballot, but the election was widely seen as a two-horse race between Ghani, seeking another five-year term, and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.