Afghanistan’s incumbent president, Ashraf Ghani, has been declared the winner of a disputed presidential vote that’s been tainted by accusations of vote-rigging.
Ghani led the poll with 50.64% of the 1.8 million votes cast, defeating his top rival Abdullah Abdullah, who obtained 39.52% in the bitterly contested poll that began on Sept. 28, Hawa Alam Nuristani, the chairwoman of the election commission, said on Tuesday evening.
Abdullah, who’s the chief executive of the war-torn country and shares power with the incumbent, accused Ghani of rigging about 300,000 votes in his favor. On Tuesday Abdullah rejected the outcome and said he considers the results “unlawful.”
“The results of the elections is the result of an election-rigging, a coup over democracy and betrayal over people’s will, and we consider the results as unlawful,” Abdullah, who declared himself the victor, told supporters a few hours after the announcement of the results.
Despite Abdullah’s concerns, the election commission said Ghani is the winner after investigating and invalidating fraudulent votes. That could mean more turbulence ahead for a country that has seen decades of war.
The disputed results come as Afghanistan is on track to hold peace talks with Taliban militants who control or contest half the country within 10 days of the signing of a peace deal between the group and the U.S., expected by the end of February.
“The moment has come that we should all get together and save our homeland from the clutches of poverty, piousness and war,” Ghani told a gathering of his supporters after the results were announced. “Our unity is tied with Afghanistan’s reconstruction.“
The Taliban rejected the outcome, which had been delayed by five months because of accusations of irregularities, saying it had no legitimacy as it was conducted under the “umbrella of occupation.”
“Ghani’s victory by such a small margin based on very low turnout is problematic,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center in Washington. “I fear that his narrow victory could exacerbate Afghanistan’s political divides and complicate efforts to establish and sustain an intra-Afghan dialog with the Taliban.”
Supporters of Abdullah, including current vice-president Abdul Rashid Dustom and Mohammad Maheqeq, who also holds a top government position, warned of the establishment of a parallel government if the election ends up in Ghani’s favor.
Abdullah, in his address to supporters, didn’t specifically say he would form a parallel government, but he did say he would create an “inclusive” government, without giving more details.
(Updates to add Ghani’s comments in seventh paragraph)
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