ISLAMABAD— Afghanistan’s frontrunner presidential hopeful says the ballot counting process should stop, alleging widespread vote fraud. The political turmoil threatens to derail a transfer of power from one democratically elected government to the next.
Millions of Afghans turned out June 14th to participate in the country’s first presidential runoff election, defying violent attempts by Taliban insurgents to disrupt the voting.
The runoff pitted the winner of the first round, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, against the number two vote getter, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.
But speaking at a hurriedly called news conference Wednesday in Kabul, Abdullah, announced he is boycotting the vote-counting process because the Independent Election Commission has failed to address his complaints. He went accused top officials of the commission of helping what he described as blatant and mass fraud.
"We do not have trust over the commission in their conduct. We do emphasize on the legitimacy of the process and that is for the legitimacy of the process that we suspend our engagement with the commission," said Abdullah. "We have asked our monitors to leave the counting centers of the commission in Kabul as well as in the provinces, and we are asking for the counting process to be stopped immediately.”
Abdullah cautioned that if the commission continues counting ballots it will have no legitimacy. He says he has been repeatedly demanding the election commission remove one of its top officials for directly interfering in the vote.
The presidential hopeful alleged the turnout figure announced by the Commission was inflated, suggesting it was meant to help his rival.
Abdullah said an option to resume the counting process could be the formation of a U.N.-supervised committee in which members of the rival presidential candidates are represented.
A spokesman for the Election Commission says it will look into Abdullah’s complaints, but the counting process will not be halted.
In a message on Twitter, Ghani has said his campaign "condemns every vote of fraud" and if anyone has evidence of fraud they must refer it to the national Electoral Complaint Commission.
The former finance minister added his observers will continue to do their job and remain engaged with the Election Commission as the local and international observers doing.
Lawmaker Fawzia Koofi, a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan, tells VOA that the political crisis is a worrying development for war-shattered Afghans.
“If there is no clean and clear result of the election in a transparent manner that could convince both candidates, people obviously will lose trust over elections especially we will be witnessing parliamentary elections in three months time," said Koofi. "If this election is not very clear in terms of the fraud allegations and looking at the fraud allegations and the demands of front candidates in terms of bringing more transparency in the process, it could certainly undermine the trust over institutions.”
The winner of the election will replace President Hamid Karzai who has led the nation since the U.S.-led military intervention ousted the Taliban in 2001, but constitutional term limits prevented him from seeking another term. The Election Commission, according to the official timetable, will announce preliminary results on July 2, while the final results are due July 22.
All U.S.-led foreign combat troops plan to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year and a trouble-free political transition is considered crucial for an orderly winding down of the military mission.