KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reiterated that he will leave office Sept. 2, intensifying pressure on his two potential successors to resolve their differences soon to avoid plunging the country into political chaos.
Karzai said over the weekend that a further delay in the inauguration of Afghanistan’s second president since the 2001 US.-backed war against the Taliban “is not an option.” On Sunday, he met with Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to stress that he expects an ongoing audit of a runoff election between the two to be completed in time for him to hand over power next week.
“The president said to them that he won’t stay in office longer than that period,” said Adela Raaz, a Karzai spokeswoman. She noted that Karzai has been in office a month longer than planned.
Ghani, a former World Bank official, won the June runoff by a wide margin over Abdullah, a former foreign minister. But Abdullah, who had prevailed among 16 candidates in a first round of voting in April but did not win an outright majority, alleged widespread fraud in the runoff.
Amid fears of civil unrest as Ghani and Abdullah faced off, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry brokered an agreement this month that called for an audit of the ballots and the formation of a unity government by the winner of the recount.
About two-thirds of the votes have been reviewed, and some of the early findings are to be released Monday by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan.
But there are concerns among Western and Afghan officials that the recount, which is being overseen by election observers and campaign representatives, could drag on at least into next week. And even after the audit’s conclusion, it remains unclear how quickly a coalition government can be formed.
On Friday, President Obama called both candidates and urged them to complete the process as quickly as possible, the White House said.
Jan Kubis, the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, issued a statement calling for the “rapid conclusion of the vote audit process.”
Still, as the results of the recount start becoming public this week, there are fears of a further delay in the formation of a few government.
Abdullah spokesman Fazl Sangcharaki said neither candidate made a commitment to Karzai about the feasibility of a Sept. 2 inauguration.
“It all depends upon the tempo of the audit, and as soon as that is over, whoever is declared as winner will take the responsibility” of putting together the coalition government, Sangcharaki said.
Ghani adviser Faizullah Zaki told Afghanistan’s Tolo News that the candidates continue to disagree over what roles the winner and second-place finisher would assume in a unity government.
There are signs of potential trouble. Last week, several people were reportedly injured when a knife fight broke out in a compound where the votes are being recounted. A powerful Afghan governor and Abdullah supporter also warned last week that he would lead a “civil uprising” if the audit process was biased against Abdullah.
Ahmad Zia Rafat, a political science and law professor at Kabul University, is pessimistic that a new government can be formed in a week.
“This will take time,” he said. “I do not see Sept. 2 as feasible, and I do not know of any good solution for it.”