Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 August 2020

Afghan elections: Ashraf Ghani set for victory after preliminary results

Chances of a run-off look slim after Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah received about 40 per cent of votes cast

Afghanistan's incumbent President Ashraf Ghani has won a small majority after long-delayed preliminary results from September’s election were announced on Sunday.

Mr Ghani gained 50.64 per cent of the vote with 923,868 votes while Afghanistan's Chief Executive, and Mr Ghani’s main rival, Abdullah Abdullah polled second with 720,990 votes or 39.52 per cent. He immediately vowed to challenge the tally.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the preliminary results almost three months after Afghans voted in presidential polls that were marred by low turnout and fraud claims.

Only 1.82 million eligible ballots were cast out of 9.6 million registered voters, the country's lowest election turnout ever. Nearly one million of the initial 2.7 million votes were purged due to irregularities with biometric vote recording systems and ballots cast outside of official voting hours.

The IEC did not say when the final results would be released, but candidates have three days to file any complaints before final results are announced.

Deputy Spokesperson of the IEC Zabiullah Sadaat said this process could take between 37 and 39 days.

There won’t be any decision on whether a second round of voting is needed until the final results are out and Mr Ghani’s lead is secure.

Afghanistan’s election laws say a run-off must take place if no candidate wins over half of the votes.

The preliminary results were originally due on October 17 and the final tally on November 7 but were repeatedly delayed.

The election commission tried to launch a ballot recount in November but Mr Abdullah halted the attempt, saying he wouldn’t let his observers participate. He eventually allowed a recount to go forward earlier this month.

Thousands of Mr Abdullah’s supporters rallied in November against what they said was the presence of faked ballots. The controversial recount had seemed set to favour Mr Ghani.

In a television speech on Sunday, Mr Ghani welcomed the result and said the country was now on the right path towards prosperity and development.

"With the announcement, we are moving now from darkness to light and from uncertainty to a bright future," Mr Ghani told a jubilant crowd gathered at the presidential palace in Kabul.

Haji Khalil Daresufi, a close aide of Mohammad Mohaqiq, Mr Abdullah’s running mate, told The National that his team would “fight for every vote that was cast in our favour” and said the IEC “showed to the people of Afghanistan their lack of independence".

“This result is based on fraudulent numbers and ... it is not acceptable to us,” Mr Daresufi said.

“We will take action through transparent methods … We will not let anyone play with the true mandate of the people, or damage it with their unclean votes.”

The election was meant to be the cleanest yet in Afghanistan's young democracy, with a German firm supplying biometric machines to stop people from voting more than once.

Mr Daresufi said that the party would not accept the counting of ballots not verified by the biometric machines.

“The 50.64 per cent that the 'state builder' team received is, of course, based on fraud votes,” he said. “We will file our complaint to IEC and we expect them to be transparent.”

The 2014 presidential election was mired in accusations of widespread fraud. That led the United States to cobble together a unity government between Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah, the two leading contenders. Their partnership has been fraught with bickering and rifts.

September’s election was largely seen as a two-horse race between Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah.

Now that the preliminary results have been released, candidates can lodge their complaints before a final result is published.

A United Nations official said Afghanis had braved security threats to cast their votes and deserved to be commended for carrying out their civic duty.

"Now, all Afghan authorities and actors must demonstrate their commitment to safeguard and complete the election, and to protect the integrity of the final stage of the process,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said.

He said the decisions of the electoral management bodies – the IEC and the Electoral Complaints Commission – in the final stage of the process must have clear legal and technical justifications and should be explained to the people of Afghanistan.

“All candidates have the chance to raise any concerns they may have through the appropriate mechanism and within the prescribed time,” he said.

“At the same time, the [ECC] has an obligation to adjudicate any complaints it receives transparently and thoroughly so the election process may conclude in a credible manner.”

An aide of Mr Ghani’s running mate Amrullah Saleh said his side was considering registering their own complaints with the ECC but would respect the final decision.

“It must be noted that all commissioners, whether with Election Commission or the Complaints Commission, were all elected by all candidates, not just one,” Mr Basir Mohamadi said.

“If [Dr Abdullah Abdullah’s team] don’t accept the decision, it means they don’t accept the rules of the game, the very rules they themselves set up.”

The protracted limbo has heaped additional uncertainty on Afghans who are anxiously awaiting the outcome of talks between the US and the Taliban.

Mr Ghani demanded a ceasefire before engaging in talks, something the Taliban has steadfastly rejected. The group also claimed responsibility for the bombings of two election rallies on September 17, killing 48 people.

The Taliban hold sway over half the country and it’s not clear how the Taliban will respond to Mr Ghani’s win.

“Taliban has always created problems,” said Mr Mohamadi. “They attacked us, in our office on the first day of the campaign. They were always delegitimising the democratic process, but it is our duty to stand for our own people, for our country.”

Updated: December 22, 2019 09:11 PM

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