Afghanistan's fraud-hit election teetered on the brink of collapse today as one of the two candidates boycotted the UN-supervised vote audit set up to end a prolonged dispute over the rightful winner.
Abdullah Abdullah, who claims that massive fraud was committed against him in the June 14 vote, pulled out of the audit after his senior campaign officials dismissed the process for invalidating fake votes as "a joke".
The stand-off between Abdullah and his poll rival Ashraf Ghani has threatened to revive ethnic violence in Afghanistan as US-led NATO troops withdraw after 13 years of fighting Taliban insurgents.
The audit of all eight million votes was halted on Wednesday when Abdullah's observers refused to take part -- despite a US-brokered deal in which both sides vowed to support the recount and respect its outcome.
"We will not join the process today, and maybe we will not rejoin the process at all," Fazel Aqa Hussain Sancharaki, a spokesman for the Abdullah campaign, told AFP.
"Talks are ongoing with the UN. If that reaches an agreement, we will come back. If not, that is the end of it."
The audit was designed to strengthen the legitimacy of the next government. Any street protests by Abdullah supporters could set off a spiral of instability that the UN fears would revive the divisions of the 1990s civil war.
Many of Ghani's supporters are Pashtuns in the south and east, while Abdullah's loyalists are Tajiks and other northern groups.
With both candidates claiming victory, outgoing President Hamid Karzai has raised the stakes by insisting that his successor will be inaugurated next Tuesday.
"I think now they know they have lost the election, and to hide their defeat they are trying to make excuses," Aleem Fedaee, a member of Ghani's team, told reporters.
"We have already agreed on the procedures. Any changes will be against the law and against the agreements."
Abdullah claims he was cheated out of victory in the 2009 presidential election and says history is repeating itself via
Ballot-rigging in favour of Ghani, whose camp denies the charge.