By Ayaz Gul
Afghanistan’s incumbent President Ashraf Ghani has apparently won a second five-year term based on preliminary results announced Sunday for the disputed September 28 presidential vote.
The head of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) released the long-delayed outcomes at a news conference in Kabul, noting that Ghani secured around 51% (50.64 exact figure) of the more than 1.8 million total votes.
Hawa Alam Nuristani said Ghani’s main challenger and governing partner in the outgoing unity government, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, received 39.52% of the ballots. The rest of the votes were shared among other candidates, she said.
Election authorities were originally due to release the preliminary results on October 19 but allegations of fraud from candidates, particularly Abdullah, and technical issues had forced the IEC to repeatedly delay the announcement.
“We have accomplished our task with honesty, responsibility, transparency, faithfulness and courage, respecting every single vote to ensure that democracy continues and endures in our country,” Nuristani stressed.
President Ghani later in a televised address thanked the election commission, the Afghan nation, particularly national security forces, for helping to organize the polls under challenging circumstances.
But Abdullah swiftly rejected as “fraudulent” the initial results, fueling concerns the fallout from the bitterly contested Afghan presidential polls is far from over and a final outcome could still take weeks.
“We would like to make it clear once again to our people, supporters, election commission and our international allies that our team will not accept the result of this fraudulent vote unless our legitimate concerns are addressed,” Abdullah’s office cautioned in a statement.
Abdullah has from the outset questioned the validity of around 300,000 ballots and demanded their exclusion from the recounting process. He accused the IEC of trying to deliver the election outcome favoring Ghani, charges Nuristani has repeatedly rejected.
However, election commissioners have maintained candidates can approach the national election complaints commission to raise any concerns they may have before the IEC announces a final outcome of the fourth Afghan presidential vote.
In the wake of previous fraud-marred and controversial elections, the IEC for the first time used biometric machines to deter people from voting more than once in the presidential polls on September 28.
But the IEC had to purge nearly one million of the initial 2.7 million votes polled, the lowest turnout of any election in a country with more than nine million registered voters in a population of around 35 million people. This gave credence to allegations of fraud and irregularities.
Authorities attributed the record low turnout to security threats from Taliban insurgents, irregularities and technical issues facing the organizers.
The United Nations and the United States hailed the announcement of the preliminary results, emphasizing the need for Afghan election organizers and the complaints commission to conclude the process in a credible manner.
“It’s important for all #Afghans to remember: these results are preliminary. Many steps remain before final election results are certified, to ensure the Afghan people have confidence in the results,” tweeted the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, John Bass.
The head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) again praised voters for braving security threats to cast their votes, saying it is now for all Afghan voters and actors to demonstrate their commitment to protect the integrity of the final stage of the election process.
“Any decisions taken by the electoral management bodies in the final stage of the process must have clear legal and technical justifications and should be explained to the people of Afghanistan in clear terms,” stressed Tadamichi Yamamoto.
A credible outcome of the election is considered key to efforts the United States is making to seal a deal with the Taliban to reduce violence in Afghanistan and engage in peace negotiations with Afghan stakeholders to bring an end to decades of hostilities in the country.
In return, U.S. and NATO troops would commit to a “conditions-based” phased withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan. But the Taliban said on Friday it would not enter into intra-Afghan negotiations until the signing of a foreign troop withdrawal agreement with the U.S.
The insurgents have refused to hold any direct talks with the Afghan government, dismissing it as an illegitimate entity and a product of “American occupation” of Afghanistan.