A report by European Union election observers supports some of the highest estimates of systematic fraud during Afghanistan's June 2014 presidential runoff vote.
The EU team's final report also criticizes an audit that invalidated only a small fraction of suspicious ballots in the disputed runoff between Ashraf Ghani, who is now president, and rival Abdullah Abdullah, now in the newly created post of chief executive.
EU chief observer Thijs Berman says the "growth of democracy and the credibility of the electoral institutions in Afghanistan have suffered a severe blow by the extent of the fraud."
The report, released on December 16, provides the most detailed view so far about widespread fraud allegations.
It suggests more than 2 million of the 8.1 million final-round ballots came from problematic polling stations.
Berman says the audit lacked "robust measures to exclude results" where there were indications of fraud and was hampered by “an unsatisfactory effort to isolate invalid votes" from problematic polling stations.
He says Afghan voters were "deprived of a full and transparent outcome" because the Independent Election Commission did not publish details from its audit nor present the final results.
Berman praised the "remarkable restraint" of the candidates for accepting a negotiated power-sharing deal that named Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive.
He says both Ghani and Abdullah realize the credibility of Afghanistan’s electoral institutions require reforms "in order to reinforce" confidence.
Berman says the members of Afghanistan’s Electoral Reform Committee need to be appointed without delay.
He warns that any electoral reform aimed at eliminating fraud and earning the confidence of voters "will fail its objective if those who committed fraud continue to enjoy impunity."
The EU report also makes several key recommendations for reforming the country’s electoral framework.
It calls for an independent board to nominate all members of Afghanistan’s so-called Independent Election Commission and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission.
It says safeguards also need to be introduced to ensure the "full neutrality of electoral officials" in the future.
The report says an investigation mechanism of electoral offenses and corruption needs to be introduced that includes the systematic transfer of information to the attorney general’s office or a designated judicial official.
It says Afghanistan should introduce a biometric voter identification data base for a more reliable civil register, with voters attached to specific polling stations or, at least, to specific districts.
It says coordination between Afghan election observers also should be enhanced to increase their coverage and communications, and that Afghan election officials and security forces should provide support for their deployment and access to all stages of the election process.
Finally, it says measures could be introduced to fully ensure that women have access to “secured and appropriate polling locations, led by female staff.”
With reporting by "The New York Times"