Afghanistan's presidential rivals were today mulling a UN plan for a sweeping review of the disputed polls, as US Secretary of State John Kerry sought to broker an end to the political turmoil.
Under a proposal put forward by the United Nations, the country's elections commission would audit ballot boxes from just over 8,000 polling stations where suspicions have been raised about the vote count.
The bitter standoff between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani over the run-off vote to succeed President Hamid Karzai has plunged Afghanistan into crisis and raised fears of a return to the ethnic violence of the 1990s.
As Kerry met separately with the rival candidates, he stressed that results released on Monday showing Ghani in the lead were only "preliminary". They are neither authoritative nor final, and no-one should be stating a victory at this point in time," Kerry said, as he held back-to-back meetings in the heavily-fortified US embassy after arriving in the early hours. We want a unified, stable, democratic Afghanistan. It is important that whoever is president is recognised by the people as having become president through a legitimate process," he said.
Despite Monday's announcement, Abdullah, who has already lost one presidential bid in controversial circumstances, has declared himself the true winner, saying massive fraud robbed him of victory in the June 14 run-off vote.
In a swift boost for Kerry's diplomatic efforts, Ghani threw his backing behind US calls for a wide audit of the elections. "Our commitment is to ensure that the election process enjoys the integrity and the legitimacy of the people of Afghanistan and the world," Ghani told reporters as the two men met. "Therefore we believe in the most intensive and extensive audit possible to restore faith."
UN officials late yesterday presented a plan to outgoing Karzai to audit polling stations across 34 provinces. These would be selected according to five criteria that could indicate voting fraud -- such as whether the results were multiples of 50, or where women's polling stations were staffed by men.
"These criteria would create an audit that entails 8,050 polling stations (35 per cent of all polling stations) and 3.5 million ballots (44 per cent of all ballots cast)," the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a statement.