Abdullah Abdullah’s lead in the Afghan presidential race has widened, the latest official tally of votes released on Sunday showed, although half of the votes have yet to be counted and charges of fraud remain.
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission said initial results based on almost 50 percent of the vote out of the total 34 provinces showed former foreign minister Abdullah in the lead with 44.4 percent, followed by ex-world bank official Ashraf Ghani with 33.2 percent of the votes it said were not fraudulent.
“The lead we were expecting, it didn’t come as a surprise, but perhaps we were expecting a bigger lead,” Abdullah told Reuters in an interview at his home in Kabul. “We are still hoping the elections will be completed in the first round.”
To win, a candidate must secure more than 50 percent of valid ballots. Failing that, the top two candidates go into a run-off. Final results are due on May 14, and a run-off, if needed, will take place in late May.
Security concerns make a run-off a risky proposition for Afghanistan. Moreover, the prospect of a low turnout remains. The cost would also be substantial— the bill for the first round was put at more than $100 million.
But Abdullah dismissed the idea of deal-making to avoid another round of voting.
“The idea of coalition building in order to avoid a second round is not on the agenda, at least we are not intending to enter that track,” he said. “The people of Afghanistan deserve to have a clear outcome.”
He said he had spoken with Zalmay Rassoul, running in third place with nearly 11 percent of the vote, as the likelihood rises of them joining forces to defeat Ghani in a second round.
Fraud on the rise
Afghanistan’s allies hailed the first round on April 5 a success because of the high number of participants and the fact that Taliban militants didn’t stage any big attacks on polling day, but evidence of widespread fraud has taken some of the gloss off the election, the third presidential election since US-led forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001.
Over a million votes are likely to be thrown out, and election officials have also warned that the high incidence of fraud could delay the entire election process.
“High ranking officials all the way from governors to MPs were involved in ballot stuffing,” Gul Agha Sherzai, one of the nine candidates and former governor of Kandahar, told Reuters. “District commanders, police officials, everybody was involved - the previous election, nothing like this happened.”
In Herat province alone, the head of provincial election complaints commission told Reuters on Sunday that 100,000 votes from 27 polling stations have been invalidated.
More incidents of serious fraud have been reported in this month’s vote than in the previous ballot of 2009, threatening to undermine the legitimacy of an election meant to usher in Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power.
Abdullah conceded that fraud was a worry, but said the vote was much cleaner than the 2009 ballot when he dropped out of the election after complaining that the poll was marred by massive ballot box stuffing.
Ghani on Saturday also pointed to alleged fraud, in one sign that the final result could be disputed.
"There is still vagueness, and the point is that these votes are still changing," he said after the latest batch of results. "Fraud is not allowed in law at all, and it is not acceptable."
Foreign donors, who are hesitant about bankrolling the Afghan government after the bulk of NATO troops leaves, will also closely scrutinise the composition of the country’s future government to decide if they can work with the new team.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)
Date created : 2014-04-21