KABUL — Afghanistan’s election commission said it will miss the Saturday deadline for announcing initial results from the country’s presidential election last month.

Hawa Alam Nuristani, head of the Independent Election Commission, apologized for the commission’s failure to announce the results on time.

“Regrettably, the commission, due to technical issues and for the sake of transparency, could not announce the presidential election initial poll results,” she said.

She gave no timetable for when the results would be announced but said she hopes it will be “as soon as possible.”

The delay comes amid deepening political uncertainty following the Sept. 28 vote. The front-runners, President Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, said they expect to win and indicated they will not accept defeat because of suspected flaws in the voting process. 

Inconclusive election results marred by fraud in the previous presidential election in 2014 nearly tore the country apart. A political crisis was averted only after the United States brokered a power-sharing deal between Ghani and Abdullah. 

Both men have said securing a peace deal to end the country’s 18-year war is a top priority, but a heavily contested vote would undercut any Afghan government’s standing in peace talks with the Taliban.

While talks with the Taliban were scuttled by President Trump in early September, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan met with Taliban leaders in Pakistan earlier this month. Officials in Washington and Kabul assert that the U.S.-Taliban talks are on hold and could be resumed.

The United Nations and the U.S. Embassy have called on all candidates to respect the electoral process and wait for official results before declaring victory. 

Without naming any of the campaigns, Nuristani said “a number of observers . . . are illegally disrupting the process of the elections.” Each presidential campaign was permitted to send observers to polling stations across the country on election day, and the campaigns have observers present during the process for counting votes.

Fraudulent votes

Ever since Afghanistan began holding elections following the 2001 ouster of the Taliban, the voting has been riddled with fraud. The most recent election aimed to change that with the use of biometric devices that collect voter data. 

The devices required a photograph and fingerprint from each voter and would only accept votes during the hours when the polling station was supposed to be open. The technology appears to have complicated the vote-counting process, but it has the potential to result in a cleaner vote. Hundreds of thousands of votes that were cast without biometric information are expected to be disqualified. 

One Afghan election official said as many as 500,000 votes from hundreds of polling stations are expected to be discarded because they lack corresponding biometric information. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media. 

Officials from Ghani’s and Abdullah’s campaigns say a transparent, clean vote is what is most important to them. Najib Danesh, an official from Ghani’s campaign, said he hopes the commission doesn’t “sacrifice accuracy and transparency over speed.”

Both campaigns say they have referred several cases of fraud to the election commission.

In an interview with The Washington Post before the election, Abdullah warned that a fraud-marred election result “will be contested” and that his supporters would not be willing to “sacrifice” a legitimate victory at the polls. 

Low turnout

Afghanistan has seen steadily declining turnout since the country first held national elections in 2004 following the Taliban’s ouster. Initially, numbers announced by the election commission suggested around 2.7 million Afghans cast a vote on Sept. 28, less than a third of registered voters. 

However, if hundreds of thousands of votes are discarded, that turnout figure could drop lower. In the first election after the Taliban was ousted from power, turnout was about 70 percent. 

Afghans interviewed by The Post cited violence and fears of fraud as the main reasons they were staying away from the polls. The vote was marred by violence, although not to the degree that many feared. The Taliban pledged violence to disrupt the vote and carried out several large attacks in the lead-up to Sept. 28. 

In total, election-related attacks killed 85 and wounded 373 civilians, according to the United Nations. Casualties were fewer than Afghanistan’s 2018 election, but the low turnout figures suggest that the Taliban’s campaign in the lead-up to the election succeeded in keeping people home. 

The Taliban views the Afghan government as a puppet of the United States and considers its elections to be illegitimate.