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Ghani Leads in Afghan Poll, Early Results Show

by VOA News July 07, 2014

Afghan election officials say, based on preliminary results, Ashraf Ghani leads in the presidential race with 56.44 percent of the vote. Abdullah Abdullah comes in second with 43.56 percent of the vote.

Abdallah's camp immediately rejected the preliminary results.

His campaign has alleged that there was "industrial-scale" ballot-box stuffing in the June 14 election and demanded the release of election results be delayed, which it was by several hours.

Election officials say voter turnout was more than 8 million out of a possible 13.5 million, far greater than was forecast.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Abdullah had been viewed as the frontrunner, but the early election results suggest he is at least 1 million votes behind former finance minister Ghani in the vote

Before the results were announced, ​​​Abdullah told reporters in Kabul he would only accept the outcome when the "clean votes are separated from unclean votes" and after all fraud allegations were resolved.

He accused Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his provincial governors, and security personnel of complicity in rigging the polls.

Hajji Mohammad Mohaqeq, second running mate of Abdullah, said Monday, the people would form a "parallel government" if their demands for transparency were not met.

U.S. Senator Carl Levin, who is visiting Kabul, met with both candidates and said Sunday he was assured that Abdullah and Ghani will accept a comprehensive audit of the vote.

The election dispute has revived longstanding ethnic tensions in Afghanistan because Ghani represents the majority Pashtun community, while Abdullah mainly draws support from Tajik Afghans, the second largest ethnic group.

Last-minute meeting

Before the preliminary results were announced Monday, the two presidential candidates met in an attempt to find a last-minute compromise to keep Afghanistan from sliding into a protracted period of uncertainty without a clear leader accepted by all sides.

The deadlock over the June second-round runoff has quashed hopes for a smooth transition of power in Afghanistan, a headache for the West as most U.S.-led forces continue to withdraw from the country this year.

Polling station audits

Ghani's camp said the two sides had agreed to audit an additional 7,100 polling stations to ensure the final result is clean, but Abdullah's aides said the compromise was not final

Azita Rafhat, a spokeswoman for Ghani, said the two sides had agreed to expand the fraud investigation beyond the 1,930 polling stations that are currently being audited.

"We have agreed to audit ballots from 7,100 polling stations in 10 provinces for more transparency," Rafhat told Reuters.

Both rounds of the vote to elect a successor to Karzai have been plagued by accusations of mass fraud, and the refusal by either candidate to accept the outcome could split the fragile country along ethnic lines.

Karzai, who has ruled since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, is constitutionally barred from a third term in office and has not publicly endorsed any candidate.

Abdullah, who has a Pashtun father and a Tajik mother, draws much of his support from the Tajik minority in northern Afghanistan. Ghani, a former World Bank economist, has strong support from Pashtun tribes in the country's south and east.

Dangerous crisis

Refusal by either Abdullah or Ghani to accept the outcome of the election could plunge the country into a dangerous crisis, with the possibility of a bloody standoff between the two ethnic groups or even secession of parts of the country.

Afghanistan has been battered by decades of conflict, and any power struggle would undermine claims that the hugely costly U.S.-led military and civilian mission has helped to establish a functioning state.

Without a clear leader, Afghanistan could split into two or more fiefdoms along tribal fault lines, or even return to the bloody civil war of the 1990s.

Seeking compromise

But on Monday, both sides appeared keen to find a compromise. Official final results are due on July 22, so election officials still have time to conduct a broader fraud probe that would be suitable to both sides.

With NATO's combat mission ending, the summer has been a major test of the fledgling Afghan government forces, which has been fighting back in the southern province of Helmand after a major Taliban offensive last month.

All foreign combat troops will leave Afghanistan by December, with about 10,000 US troops staying into next year if the new president signs a security deal with Washington.

Spike in violence

Taliban insurgents remain a formidable security risk after vowing to disrupt the election process.

On Monday, insurgents in northern Afghanistan fired a rocket into a home killing five children.

In a separate attack Monday gunmen killed five policemen in the western province of Herat.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks.

"The killing of civilians, especially children, is an inhuman act and against Islam," he said.

Analysts believe the contentious election has encouraged the Taliban to step up their attacks.

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