KABUL: The United Nations said Tuesday it had stepped in to help broker a solution to Afghanistan’s election crisis, hosting talks between presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah and the election authority that he has boycotted.
Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power was thrown into turmoil when Abdullah said the Independent Election Commission (IEC) was guilty of fraud and he considered it illegitimate.
The dispute threatened to tip the country into political instability at a sensitive time, with the withdrawal of US-led combat forces after 13 years of fighting Taliban insurgents. The UN had been reluctant to interfere in the election, but outgoing President Hamid Karzai said he would welcome its help as the deadlock deepened.
“The IEC and Presidential Candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah met last night in an encounter facilitated by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA),” the UN said in a statement.
“UNAMA will continue to support the electoral process that remains fully in the hands of Afghan electoral institutions and stakeholders.” A potential breakthrough emerged on Monday when senior IEC official Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, whom Abdullah had accused of fraud, resigned.
But a smooth election process still appears in doubt, with Abdullah and his poll rival Ashraf Ghani both confident of victory as vote counting continues after the run-off election 10 days ago.
Abdullah claims that there was massive ballot-box stuffing, especially in the Ghani heartlands of the southeast where Abdullah says there were more votes cast in some areas than eligible voters.
According to reports, Ghani has made a surprise comeback and is ahead in the vote count after finishing well behind Abdullah in the first-round election on April 5. Foreign diplomats have expressed alarm at the prospect of a disputed outcome that could trigger a spiral of instability as military assistance and civilian aid declines. The preliminary result is due on July 2 and the final result, after adjudication of complaints, is scheduled for July 22.
Ghani’s campaign team on Tuesday pushed for partial results, which were due out this week, to be released as soon as possible. “We expect the IEC to not delay the partial... results any longer,” said his official Twitter feed, criticising Abdullah’s “baseless allegations” against the IEC.
“Dr. Abdullah and his team should find moral courage to admit there’s a winner and a loser,” the campaign added.
Outgoing President Karzai has vowed to oversee a transparent election, though it is unclear if he has played a role in behind-the-scenes efforts to end the deadlock, and he has not named his preferred successor.
On Tuesday he welcomed the resignation of Amarkhail, who denied all wrongdoing, and said the election timetable was on track for an inauguration on August 2. “With this act, Mr Amarkhail has opened the door for the progress of a normal election process,” Karzai said. Abdullah’s campaign on Sunday released telephone recordings that it said were conversations of Amarkhail arranging ballot-box stuffing using the code words “sheep stuffing”.
The US-led coalition that has fought in Afghanistan since 2001 and donated billions of dollars in aid is keen for a credible election to bolster claims that a functioning state has been set up in place of the ousted Taliban regime.
The run-off vote was held after an eight-man first-round election in which Abdullah won 45 percent against Ghani’s 31.6 percent.
Pro-Abdullah supporters held a rally in the western city of Herat on Tuesday after similar protests in Kabul on Saturday.
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