Afghan presidential election thrown into question as Abdullah disputes vote counting


Afghanistan's presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, right, leaves a news conference in Kabul. (Massoud Hossaini/AP)
June 18

Less than a week after Afghanistan’s presidential election, one of the two candidates is calling the government’s vote-counting process illegitimate, laying the groundwork for a protracted dispute that could destabilize the country.

Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister, said Wednesday that he will reject the results due to be issued next month by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), calling the commission biased and the results fraudulent.

While many here expected some questioning of the vote, Abdullah’s objections came far earlier than expected — two weeks before preliminary results will be announced and well before an electoral complaints commission has finished investigating claims of fraud.

“The process of counting votes must be stopped,” Abdullah said at a news conference, suggesting that a new body, overseen by the United Nations, might be formed to administer the process.

That seems unlikely to happen anytime soon. The international community, particularly the United States, invested millions of dollars in training the IEC. The U.N. office in Kabul expressed alarm at the development.

“With the utmost concern, the U.N. Mission notes that appeals to circumvent or abandon the legal process and framework and appeal directly to supporters could incite violence,” the U.N. Mission said in a statement. It said that some incidents of civil disobedience had already occurred, but did not provide details. Calls to U.N. officials were not immediately returned Wednesday evening.

In addition to alleging bias by the commission, Abdullah accused the Afghan police of engaging in fraud on behalf of his opponent, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.

“Perhaps the foreigners do not know the realities, but for Afghans the reality is clear,” he said.

Some perceived Abdullah’s comments as a sign of desperation after a poorer-than-expected showing in Saturday’s runoff election. Abdullah received 44.5 percent of the vote in the first round of voting in April, compared to 31.5 percent for Ghani. But reports of a higher voter turnout in the second round in the south and east, both Pashtun heartlands, might have boosted Ghani’s support. Ghani belongs to the Pashtun ethnic group, believed to be Afghanistan’s largest, while Abdullah is of mixed heritage and is often associated with the Tajik minority.

Most Afghan and foreign observers had expected some fraud, but had hoped the candidates would entrust the country’s electoral bodies to weed out illegitimate votes.

Officials from Ghani’s campaign said the electoral body must continue its work. “The commission is not a hostage to anyone,” said Abbas Noyan, a member of Ghani’s team.

Many here worry that a contested election could devolve into violence — a concern grounded in part in the memory of the country’s brutal civil war in the 1990s.

“If our demands are not met, there will be serious consequences,” said Fazul Rahman Oria, Abdullah’s spokesman. He did not elaborate.

Members of the election commission said they had no intention of halting their efforts.

“We will continue the vote-counting process based on our timeline,” said Yusef Nuristani, the head of the IEC, told TOLO News, a local television station.

Kevin Sieff has been The Post’s bureau chief in Afghanistan since 2012. He served previously as an education reporter in Washington, and had covered the U.S. -Mexico border.
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