Afghan presidential candidate unswayed by electoral fraud investigation

In a Monitor interview, Abdullah Abdullah called for additional scrutiny of ballots from a contentious runoff vote in June. The election commission has delayed the release of initial results.

Omar Sobhani/AP
Abdullah Abdullah on the campaign trail from June 10.

Abdullah Abdullah, one of the two candidates vying to be Afghanistan's next president, said Tuesday he was encouraged by a decision to delay the release of preliminary results from the country's contentious June 14 runoff. 

But in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, he continued to attack the credibility of the poll, throwing a shadow over the country's first democratic transition. 

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) had set today as the deadline for announcing preliminary results. But officials said Tuesday that they would delay announcing results until next week since audits of nearly 2,000 polling stations couldn't be completed before then. Mr. Abdullah has suggested that ballot stuffing and other irregularities could have swayed the outcome. Afghanistan had 23,000 polling stations for the runoff election. 

Abdullah, the former foreign minister who led in April’s first round polls, has accused the government of President Hamid Karzai and Afghan electoral bodies of fixing the results to favor his opponent, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. 

In an interview at his house in Kabul, Abdullah said he believed that up to two million votes cast could be tainted and should be investigated. “We believe there are up to two million votes [to investigate]," he says. 

Final results for the election are due on July 22. The next president is due to be sworn in on Aug. 2. The United Nations has tried to mediate the dispute between the candidates, which flared almost immediately after the polls closed. Abdullah has threatened to boycott the process, fueling fears of political unrest in Kabul as the US-led NATO mission prepares to draw down by the end of the year. 

In particular, Abdullah and his supporters have singled out Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, the top official at the nation's election commission, whom they accuse of arranging the distribution of pre-filled ballots to polling stations in Kabul province. Mr. Amarkhail denied any wrongdoing. He then resigned from his post on June 23 after the leak of purported audio recordings between IEC official and members of Ahmadzai’s campaign. 

However, Abdullah says Amarkhail’s shadow still looms over the election results. “While he is out the work he has done has not been undone," he told the Monitor. 

His campaign has called on the IEC to reexamine any districts where one candidate received 93 percent or more of the vote, and in districts where there were female-only polling stations but no female election workers assigned to them. If fraudulent votes are separated from legitimate ballots, Abdullah says the outcome will be "very different from what is perceived at this stage.” [Editor's note: The original quote was misstated.]  

Election fatigue

Critics say Abdullah, who backed out of a 2009 runoff with Mr. Karzai, is a sore loser. On social media, Afghans have accused him of dragging out the electoral process for financial gain. Others have expressed a sense of election fatigue after months of campaigning. 

Abdullah says his objections to the election process so far is simply a demand for a fair election decided by the people. “The credibility of the process is damaged not because of our claims but because of what had happened." 

Both campaigns have claimed victory in the runoff. Abdullah claims that a proper auditing of results should give him a solid lead, as in the first round when he got 45 percent compared to 31.6 percent for Dr. Ahmadzai. At a press conference last week, Ahmadzai said his team’s figures put him 1.3 million votes ahead of Abdullah.

Abdullah said he has explored many options beyond technical electoral challenges, but declined to spell them out. “I hope that the people of Afghanistan (are) not pushed towards any line that shouldn’t be crossed," he says, alluding to recent protests by his supporters. 

There has been speculation in Kabul that Abdullah could refuse to accept an unfavorable outcome and even set up a parallel government. He didn't comment on these rumors. Instead, he hinted at compromise with his rival, saying the political process could be drawn out in order to find a favorable solution. 

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