Presidential candidate blames fraud for his rival leading in preliminary results.
Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has claimed victory in Afghanistan’s disputed election, blaming fraud for putting him behind in preliminary results as fears rise of instability and ethnic unrest.
Abdullah told a rally of thousands of rowdy supporters in Kabul on Tuesday that he would fight on to win the presidency, but called for patience from loyalists who demanded he declare a “parallel government” to rule the country.
“We are proud, we respect the votes of the people, we were the winner,” Abdullah said. “Without any doubt or hesitation, we will not accept a fraudulent result, not today, not tomorrow, never.”
Before he spoke, a huge photograph of President Hamid Karzai was ripped down from the stage—underlining the boiling anger among Abdullah’s supporters after Monday’s preliminary result in favor of poll rival Ashraf Ghani.
The election stand off has sparked concern that protests could spiral into ethnic violence and even lead to a return to the fighting between warlords that ravaged Afghanistan during the 1992-1996 civil war. Both Abdullah and Ghani called for the country to remain united as it faces a difficult transfer of power at the same time that 50,000 U.S.-led NATO troops wind down their battle against Taliban insurgents and aid money declines.
“Afghanistan’s unity is never in question,” Ghani, a former World Bank economist, told reporters. “We accept the preliminary result of the election, and I ask all my countrymen to patiently wait for the final results. Our votes are clean and will pass any auditing.”
President Karzai, the United States and the United Nations all called for candidates to respect the election timetable, which allows for auditing and complaints before the official result is released around July 24. U.S. President Barack Obama warned the two rivals that violence or taking “extra-constitutional means” would result in him stopping U.S. assistance to the country. In phone calls to Ghani and Abdullah, Obama “stressed that the United States expects a thorough review of all reasonable allegations of fraud to ensure a credible electoral process,” the White House said in a statement.
Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter, said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who echoed similar warnings, would visit Kabul on Friday in a bid to help solve the crisis.
NATO’s chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the allegations of poll fraud were a “grave concern,” and that he hoped a credible outcome could be reached in order to allow the new Afghan president to sign a security pact before a NATO summit in September as international forces wind down their Afghan mission.
“The results are not final and are subject to change, and … it would be premature for either of the candidates to claim victory,” the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said, in an apparent criticism of Abdullah. The mission urged both campaigns to prevent supporters “from taking steps that could lead to civil disorder and instability.”
Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from a third term in office, has stayed publicly neutral in the lengthy election, but Abdullah supporters accuse him of fixing the run-off vote in Ghani’s favor. The president, who came to power after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, welcomed the result announcements, but said the winner would be known only “after complaints are addressed and genuine votes separated.”
Independent Election Commission head Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani admitted on Monday there had been fraud by the security forces and senior government officials. Before Monday’s result, the two rival teams were in intense negotiations over the extent of a proposed fraud probe to check thousands of the most suspicious ballot boxes.
Ghani said he would sign up to a U.N.-backed audit of about 7,000 of the 23,000 polling stations, while Abdullah has pushed for about 11,000 stations to be re-checked.