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US hopes for a smooth transition of power in Afghanistan are evaporating after the trailing presidential candidate labeled preliminary results a "coup against the people"and some supporters called for the formation of a "parallel government."
Secretary of State John Kerry issued a warning to Afghans today that if anyone tried to seize power in a rejection of early runoff results, international aid to Afghanistan would stop.
The US is heavily invested in guiding Afghanistan's transition of power as it withdraws most of its troops, which have been there since 2001. President Hamid Karzai has led Afghanistan for 12 years and concern runs high about a power vacuum after he leaves. The US is also concerned that election disputes will delay an agreement to keep some troops in the country beyond 2014, something both candidates in the runoff have said they would sign, according to Bloomberg.
Presumed victor Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank official, is backed by the Pashtun tribes of southern and eastern Afghanistan, while Abdullah, a former foreign minister, draws his support from the Tajik minority in the north. Thousands of Abdullah's supporters rallied in Kabul today, Reuters reports.
In a noisy protest, crowds of Abdullah supporters gathered in a giant tent in the center of the capital Kabul, chanting "Death to Karzai", tearing down a large portrait of the outgoing leader and replacing it with an image of Abdullah.
In a tense atmosphere, Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance righter, was due to address the crowd later in the day.
Some Abdullah supporters have suggested his camp should declare victory and form a parallel government, a dangerous move that would further fracture the fragile country.
Secretary Kerry's threats to withdraw aid carry weight: The Afghan government relies heavily on foreign assistance for "everything from building roads and paying school teachers to security" – and most of that aid comes from the US, according to Reuters.
The election commission's preliminary results released Monday show Dr. Ghani receiving 56 percent of the vote, while Abdullah won 44 percent of the vote, according to Bloomberg. Ghani's victory could not be officially declared because ballots from more than 7,000 polling stations, about a third of the total, are being scrutinized for fraud. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said as many as 3 million ballots may be affected.
In the first round of voting, Abdullah received 45 percent of the vote, while Ghani received only 32 percent. With no candidate securing a majority, the vote had to go to a runoff.
The number of ballots cast in the second round was about 1 million more than in the first round, raising suspicions of fraud, [Sayed Fazel Sancharaki, a spokesman for Abdullah] said.
Abdullah has sought to void about 2.5 million votes in southern and eastern regions, saying the number of ballots exceeded the population in certain areas. One senior election official he had accused of fraud resigned last month.
Ghani’s camp agreed to audit 7,000 polling stations “for the sake of stability and democracy, Azita Rafat, a spokeswoman for Ghani [Ahmadzai], said by phone yesterday. He wouldn’t agree to any further audits demanded by Abdullah, she said.
Analysts will be very worried. They know that what has been suggested - a parallel government - could affect Afghanistan's stability, economy, security and its relations with the international community. The army across the country is such a divided force that it is difficult to know how it might respond. Everybody recognises this has the making of an electoral crisis.