KABUL (PAN): Amid growing calls for an early announcement of results of the August 20 presidential polls, the UN-backed electoral watchdog and Afghanistan's Independent Election (IEC) Monday launched a random audit of 358 suspect ballot boxes.

A total of 3498 polling stations are covered by a September 8 order of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) for an audit and recount of ballots from the polling stations where irregularities were allegedly committed.

The commissions are auditing ballot boxes from polling the stations were 600 or more valid votes were cast or where one candidate received 95 percent or more of the total votes cast during the August 20 presidential elections.

ECC official Fahim Hakim told Pajhwok Afghan News on Monday that 39 ballot boxes, quarantined by the IEC, had been excluded from the 313 boxes under review. In lieu thereof, he revealed, 48 other suspect ballot boxes had been added to the category.

IEC spokesman Noor Muhammad Noor, when approached for comments, said the audit and recount process was set in motion in compliance with the ECC directive.

Noor promised the process would be completed in two days in the presence of national and international observers, as well as representatives of candidates. He was confident the final results would be unveiled soon.

With a view to avoiding further delay in announcing the final outcome, the ECC agreed with the IEC that a sample could be taken to obtain data that would reliably represent the existence of polling irregularities in stations with equivalent results nationwide.

A random sample of polling stations was selected for each category, enabling conclusions to be reached with a low statistical margin of error. Each sample size is approximately 10 percent of estimated total ballots in the respective category.

For each ballot box within a sample, the ECC said in a statement, the IEC would record data related to physical indicators of fraud. The ECC will use the data to determine whether or not the ballot boxes were considered fraudulent.

This determination will be based on indicators that include a visual inspection of the ballot box for signs of tampering, a check of the contents of the ballot box to see whether required materials are present and whether the contents indicate signs of irregularities, an inspection of the ballots themselves to see whether they show clear signs of fraud and a review of the result and reconciliation forms to check whether votes were recorded correctly.

If the ECC finds convincing evidence of fraud in a ballot box, it will invalidate the results of the polling station and notify the IEC accordingly. A finding that a ballot box was fraudulent means that the integrity of the voting process for that box has been compromised, and that all the votes contained in it should be invalidated.

The ECC is also investigating the complaints it has received about polling and counting. This process is separate from the audit and recount method. Where the ECC finds clear evidence of fraud, it will order the invalidation of the results for a polling station.

President Hamid Karzai leads the preliminary results with around 55 percent of the vote, followed by key challenger Dr. Abdullah Abdullah with 28 percent.

Translated & edited by S. Mudassir Ali Shah

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