With 56 percent of the vote, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission announced former finance minister Ashraf Ghani led last month’s presidential runoff. But Monday’s results are not final, and the commission needs another two weeks to investigate seemingly endless allegations of election fraud before declaring a winner on July 22.
Ghani leads by a vote of 4,485,888 to Abdullah’s 3,461,639. The tally included results delivered from nearly 23,000 polling stations across the country—some on the backs of donkeys.
The results, expected last week, were delayed five days to investigate allegations of fraud lodged by both candidates. It is feared that Northern Alliance leader Abdullah Abdullah’s protest, in particular, could ignite a civil war just as some 20,000 American troops are packing up to leave by year’s end.
“We cannot ignore that there were technical problems and fraud that took place during the election process,” Afghanistan’s current chief election commissioner Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said at a news conference in Kabul on Monday.
A turnout of 8 million voters out of a possible 13.5 million eligible Afghans took many election watchers by surprise. Abdullah has since demanded a recount at stations where the number of women who voted outnumbered men, and his campaign has alleged ballot-stuffing and collusion between Ghani’s campaign and Afghan election officials. Abdullah also released recorded phone conversations alleging Afghanistan’s IEC chief encouraged election officials to tamper with the election in Ghani’s favor. The elections official denied wrongdoing but resigned anyway.
Abdullah dismissed Monday’s results pre-emptively on Saturday, saying, “When clean votes are separated from fraudulent votes, and from multiple votes cast by one person, then we will accept the result.”
But elections officials drew Abdullah back into negotiations with the announcement that nearly one-third of Afghan polling stations—including nearly 3 million votes—will be audited in the next two weeks, Nouristani said, following an agreement reached between the two candidates.
“For the sake of stability and democracy, we agreed with Abdullah’s team to audit and investigate 7,000 polling stations,” Azita Rafat, a spokeswoman for Ghani, told Bloomberg.
Afghanistan is slated to inaugurate its new president on August 2, and for many military planners the date couldn’t come soon enough. Both candidates have said they would sign the long-delayed Bilateral Security Agreement authorizing a reduced U.S. troop presence beyond 2014. There are currently nearly 50,000 international troops in Afghanistan, more than half of which—approximately 33,000—are from the United States.
Despite a relatively quiet election in terms of violence, the Taliban has applied significant pressure on the Afghan security forces in recent weeks—particularly to the south in Sangin, where a major Taliban offensive has displaced more than 4,000 residents and claimed the lives of at least 100 Afghan policemen who fought until they ran out of ammunition.