February 19, 2020 9:05:52 am
Written by Mujib Mashal and Najim Rahim
President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday was declared the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential vote after months of delayed results and bitter dispute. But the announcement threatened to tip the country into a full-blown political crisis on the cusp of a U.S. peace deal with the Taliban.
Just hours after the announcement, Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah — who accuses Afghanistan’s election commission of favoring the incumbent — also declared himself the winner and said that he would form a government of his own.
The vote, held in September amid a record number of Taliban attacks intended to destabilize the election, had itself been repeatedly delayed and marred by uncertainty as a peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan was nearing finalization. But President Donald Trump snubbed the talks just weeks before the election was expected, opening the way for the vote to proceed.
Now, with those negotiations resumed and a conditional date announced for the signing of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban, the fresh political crisis risks derailing that fragile process, which was expected to open the way for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban over the country’s political future.
Abdullah and several other candidates have disputed roughly 300,000 votes from a low turnout of about 1.8 million.
In a news conference announcing the result after an audit of about 15% of the total vote, the election commission’s chief said that Ghani had won with the narrowest of margins — 50.64% of the vote, just surpassing the 50% minimum required for a win. Abdullah received 39.5%, according to the commission.
The win puts Ghani in position for another five-year term as president.
“This is not just an election victory,” he said after the result was announced. “This is the victory of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. This is the victory of the people’s wishes.”
Hours later, however, Abdullah appeared in a televised address surrounded by his own supporters.
“I asked those who believe in democracy, in a healthy future for this country, in citizens’ rights to stand up to fraud and to not accept this fraudulent result,” Abdullah said. “We are the winners based on clean votes, and we declare our victory. We will form the inclusive government.”
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