The first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan is facing a crisis, with one of the candidates threatening to reject the result of the by-election ballot count, citing widespread fraud.
Afghan former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who contested with former World Bank advisor Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the June 14 Afghan runoff, accused the electoral commissions of massive fraud and widespread vote-rigging.
"From now onwards, since [the election authorities] have not responded to our legitimate demands, all their conducts, everything they do and the result of their activities will not be accepted by us," Abdullah was quoted by AFP as saying on Thursday, June 19. He had previously suspended all ties with the electoral authorities and demanded the vote counting process to "stop immediately."
Abdullah, who ran against Hamid Karzai in 2009, has accused the outgoing Afghan president of not remaining impartial during the elections. He had also dropped out before a run-off in 2009, accusing Karzai of widespread fraud.
The former foreign minister's stand has taken Afghanistan to the brink of a political crisis during its first democratic transfer of power. The winner is set to replace Karzai, who has been in office since the 2001. Karzai was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Militants have continued to carry out attacks, most recently on June 19, the same day Abdullah suspended ties with the election commission
According to news reports, around one hundred of Abdullah's supporters took to the streets of the Afghan capital Kabul on Thursday, June 19, to protest the alleged election fraud.
On the other hand, many Afghans are desperately waiting for the election process to end so that normal life can resume in their war-torn country.
Thirty-year-old Zubair Milma says he is eagerly waiting for the result. "Why should this process [Afghan elections] be prolonged? People lost their lives and hands for it. The candidates should accept the result of the elections," adds the Kabul resident. According to Afghan Defense Ministry, 33 civilians were killed and 63 others wounded in Taliban attacks on Election Day alone, which was held on June 14.
The UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) warned in a statement late Wednesday that if candidates "abandon the legal process and framework and appeal directly to supporters, [this] could incite violence." The UN described Abdullah's decision to suspend ties with the IEC as "regrettable" and expressed its "utmost concern."
The Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA) spokesman Fahim Naime called on the electoral commissions and presidential candidates not to harm the election process:
"We call on the IEC and Abdullah Abdullah to resolve this issue as soon as possible, because as time passes the crisis deepens. If it continues this way, we might reach a point where the commissions won't be able to resolve these problems," Naim told DW. He also called on the IEC to take steps in order to restore trust with Abdullah Abdullah.
"In the meantime the candidates should respect the votes of the people and not take such actions that can harm the election process," Naime said.
FEFA deployed more than 9,000 people across the country to observe polling centers during the second round of the vote. The non-governmental organization says the runoff was as transparent as the first round. Adbullah Abdullah, who won 45 percent of the votes in the first round, accepted the result and actively campaigned for a runoff.
The IEC estimates that seven million voters cast ballots in the by-election, or 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters. However, Abdullah claims the actual turnout on June 14 was much lower and that the number was inflated to pave the way for fraud in favor of his rival.
Ballot counting to continue
A spokesman for the electoral commission, Noor Mohammad Noor, told DW that the vote count was continuing with national and international observers monitoring the process.
Abdullah's stand has taken Afghanistan to the brink of a political crisis during its first democratic transfer of power.
"The IEC has agreed upon a procedure with both candidates which they should honor. And the vote counting will continue under the eyes of the national and international observers."
FEFA spokesman Fahim Naime also said that his organization was continuing to observe the ballot counting. "It is a national process and our observers will continue their work but we hope that trust between Abdullah Abdullah and the IEC will be restored," he said. Preliminary results are expected on July 2 and the final result on July 22.