July 26 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Barack Obama called Afghanistan’s competing presidential candidates to encourage their continued cooperation in resolving the war-torn country’s disputed election.
“He commended the two candidates for putting the interest of Afghanistan first and committing to working together as partners in governance,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters in Washington yesterday.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was the leader in an initial announced tally of last month’s vote over Abdullah Abdullah, who disputed the results as fraudulent and claimed victory. They agreed to an audit of all 8 million votes and the formation of a unity government in a pact brokered on July 12 by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Jan Kubis, the United Nations envoy in Afghanistan.
Ghani said this week that a unity government would give the full powers of the presidency to the winner. The loser, or his designee, would serve initially as the country’s chief executive officer and later in an executive role as prime minister, Ghani said, in a system he compared to that in France.
“Our constitution is modeled on the constitution of the United States, so it is a presidential system,” Ghani said in an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose that also aired on Bloomberg Television. The president would hold the power because it’s “not a parliamentary system,” he said.
A unity government is intended to rescue Afghanistan from the national crisis spurred by the election dispute and would clear the way for the winner to sign an agreement to keep U.S. troops in the country beyond this year. It also would secure billions of dollars in aid from the U.S. and allies and may preserve gains made against the Taliban since the group’s ouster from power in 2001.
The audit of election results began last week and was suspended twice for three days due to technical issues over the tallying.
An initial tally on July 7 showed Ghani winning 56 percent of the vote, with Abdullah, taking 44 percent.
Obama plans to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 9,800 by the end of this year, with only a small force at the U.S. embassy by the end of 2016. Thirteen years of U.S. fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan has cost 2,334 American lives as of July 16.
Afghan civilian casualties rose 24 percent in the first half of 2014 from the same period a year earlier, according to a report by the United Nations in Kabul. Taliban guerrillas shot dead 16 Afghan Shiite Muslims pre-dawn yesterday in Western Ghor province after their vehicle were stopped headed to Kabul.
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