Abdullah Abdullah declared himself the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential election a day after initial results showed him losing to Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, raising the risk of protests in the war-torn country.
Abdullah, in a televised speech, said he spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry about the need to remove fraudulent votes from the final count. Kerry planned to visit Kabul on July 11 to discuss the disputed poll outcome, Abdullah said.
“We were the winner in the first round and second round of the elections,” Abdullah, a former foreign minister, said today. He added that he’ll continue fighting fraudulent votes without seeking to split the nation or trigger a civil war.
Failure to secure a deal risks unrest in one of Asia’s poorest countries and further delays to a pact that’s needed to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond this year. Both candidates have said they would sign the agreement, with Ghani saying the aid money that would follow is essential to pay Afghan soldiers as they fight Taliban insurgents who ran the country before the U.S. invasion in 2001.
Ghani, a former finance minister, took 56 percent of about 8 million votes, with Abdullah getting 44 percent, Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, chairman of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul yesterday, underscoring that the results aren’t final and might change. The two camps agreed to audit the results of about a third of all polling stations in response to concerns of fraud.
Ghani today urged calm and asked supporters to avoid celebratory gunshots. He said he welcomed an investigation into poll fraud and said he’s open to political negotiations.
“We want a united, prosperous and stable Afghanistan,” Ghani said. “We expect Dr. Abdullah won’t move the country into another crisis.”
Abdullah, the runner-up in the 2009 election, won 45 percent of 7 million votes in the first round of the election on April 5, with Ghani taking 32 percent. Both fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
The election commission delayed announcing the preliminary results for five days to investigate fraud complaints. Ghani finished with about 4.5 million votes in the second round, with Abdullah taking 3.5 million.
“We call on all Afghan leaders to maintain calm in order to preserve the gains of the last decade and maintain the trust of the Afghan people,” Kerry said in a statement yesterday. “Any action to take power by extra-legal means will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the United States and the international community.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that neither side should claim victory based on the initial results. About 3 million ballots may be affected, she said.
“We sacrifice our lives,” Abdullah said in his address today. “If our bodies are cut in parts, we won’t accept a fraudulent government.”
The two sides agreed to audit votes in 7,000 polling stations, or about a third of the total, Sayed Fazel Sancharaki, a spokesman for Abdullah, said by phone. The number of ballots cast in the second round was about 1 million more than in the first round, raising suspicions of fraud, Sancharaki 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.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said last month that the elections “were better managed and more advanced than those previously” and called on Abdullah to cooperate in the vote-counting process. It also warned against moves from either side that might ignite ethnic conflict.
“A disputed result could threaten the country’s fragile democracy and stability,” Faizullah Jalal, an economics professor at Kabul University, said by phone. “The international community must intervene and coordinate with Afghan institutions to find a way for its resolution otherwise we may experience another civil war and national crisis.”
Ghani is an ethnic Pashtun who served as Afghanistan’s finance minister from 2002-2004 and finished fourth in the 2009 election. He holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Columbia University in New York.
Abdullah, 53, is half-Pashtun and half-Tajik. He was a close aide to Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, an ethnic Tajik seen by many Afghans as a national hero for fighting against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s.
Pashtuns account for 42 percent of Afghanistan’s 32 million people, while Tajiks make up 27 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook. In the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew, factional fighting killed thousands of people and led ultimately to the Taliban regime, which was ousted by the U.S. after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.