KABUL: Afghanistan’s politics were in limbo Monday after President Ashraf Ghani’s main rival rejected the preliminary results of September’s election and his team filed thousands of complaints about the initial outcome.
After a delay of nearly two months the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced Sunday that Ghani had secured 50.64 percent of the vote, while the country’s chief executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah had won nearly 40 percent.
Abdullah, who says tens of thousands of votes for Ghani were fraudulent, rejected the results as soon as they were announced and called himself the “winner on the basis of a clean vote.”
Abdullah’s election observers filed around 4,000 complaints to the IEC, commission members told reporters. Complaints will be registered for 72 hours from Sunday’s announcement and their verification will take several weeks.
“We are assuring the people that the verification process will be fair and based on documents and evidence,” Deen Mohammad Azimi, deputy head of the commission, said during a press conference.
He said complaints regarding 112,000 votes which were cast manually would be prioritized.
In 2014, there was a second round amid complaints of massive rigging. After a US-brokered deal, Ghani became the president, sharing power with Abdullah in the National Unity Government.
Commission member Qasim Elyas said the margin between Ghani and Abdullah was “tight” compared with the 2014 election, but could not say if there would be a runoff.
Ahmad Saeedi, a political analyst, said the verification of complaints would decide the fate of September’s election. It was not clear if the polls would go to a second round, he said, but added that “the country may go into a deeper crisis” if Afghans did not accept the vote.
Another analyst, Zabihullah Pakteen, also described the fate of the polls as uncertain, pointing to the narrow difference between Ghani’s results and the 51 percent threshold.
“This could be seen as room for maneuver to settle it with Mr. Abdullah’s camp. Or if the complaint commission omits this, we will head for a runoff,” he told Arab News.
Voter turnout in September was the lowest since the Taliban ouster in 2001. Only 1.8 million out of 9 million registered voters participated in the presidential election, which was marred by irregularities and dozens of deadly Taliban attacks.
Foreign donors have called on Ghani and Abdullah to exercise restraint until the commission has verified all complaints.
A major task for the future leader will be to start talks with the Taliban, amid plans by the US to withdraw thousands of its troops to strike a peace deal with the armed group.
“Recognizing that a majority of Afghans were not able to vote, the eventual winner, whomever that is, must take early and concrete steps to ensure the country’s rich diversity is well reflected in its leadership and its negotiating team (for talks with the Taliban),” Alice Wells, a US diplomat, said in a statement.