Process Determining Next Afghan President Is Fraught With Delays

Afghan and international monitors are muddling through an audit of all the ballots cast, and the two candidates are trying to come to agreement on the terms of a national unity government.

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When Afghanistan's election process was breaking down last month, Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Kabul to knock heads - diplomatically speaking of course. Kerry brokered a deal between candidates of Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. The two agreed to accept the results of an audit of every vote cast in the June 14 runoff election. They also agreed to create a government of national unity once the winner is declared. Well, now the audit is barely halfway done and political talks - well, they are inching along. Here's NPR's Sean Carberry.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Hundreds of election workers and observers are poring through some 23,000 ballot boxes. The UN is overseeing the process as monitors from the two campaigns continue squabbling. The audit has triggered several fistfights and one stabbing so far. Observers say it can take weeks or months to complete at this pace. That means it's unlikely a new president will be in place before the NATO summit convenes next month. It also further delays the signing of a security agreement that would keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond this year. Meanwhile, teams representing the two candidates are hammering out the terms of the future national unity government.

ANDREW WILDER: Their statements are more upbeat - that we've made progress.

CARBERRY: Andrew Wilder is an Afghanistan expert with the U.S. Institute of Peace. He says that while the atmospherics of the political talks are collegial, the key questions have yet to be resolved.

WILDER: The devil is in the detail. What does a national unity government mean?

CARBERRY: The idea behind the national unity government is to create an incentive for the eventual loser to peacefully accept the election results. The winner gets the presidency. The loser gets to appoint a chief executive officer whose powers are still under debate.

WILDER: And for the team that thinks they're on the winning side right now, they would like to, you know, have more powers in the president's position.

CARBERRY: And concede less to the new CEO.

WILDER: Those who feel they might be on the losing team are trying to ensure that the chief executive officer has significant powers. And they see this more as a power-sharing agreement of, you know, divvying up the spoils equally.

ASHRAF GHANI: It's not a power-sharing arrangement in the classic sense that you divide ministries and accountability is weak.

CARBERRY: Ashraf Ghani says the CEO will not have any executive authority. This doesn't sit well with Abdullah's team. Ghani is considered by many the likely winner, based on his lead in preliminary results released last month. Analysts in Kabul say that's why Ghani is under pressure from powerful backers not to concede much in the negotiations. Some Abdullah supporters have been threatening to protest and occupy government buildings if Abdullah is not declared the winner.

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: In response, Abdullah held an impromptu rally in Kabul yesterday to pacify his backers.

ABDULLAH: (Foreign language spoken).

CARBERRY: I assure the people of Afghanistan your clean votes will be defended, he said. Andrew Wilder says the lack of agreement on the unity government is fueling talk of top officials forming an interim government or rumors that President Karzai will declare an emergency and stay in power.

WILDER: The longer that we go without a political agreement, the more time a lot of those actors who feel they're going to lose out, have to get organized, mobilize, create problems.

CARBERRY: Wilder says the longer it takes to sort out the election, the greater the security and economic crises the new president will have to tackle. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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