Afghan candidate threatens to pull out of election process

KABUL: One of two candidates competing to succeed Afghan leader Hamid Karzai threatened on Tuesday to pull out of a U.N.-backed audit of a disputed presidential election, undermining a process meant to defuse a volatile standoff between the contenders.
The investigation is part of a U.S.-brokered deal between presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, both of whom claim to have won the election that was hoped would usher in the country’s first democratic transfer of power.
The crisis over the outcome of the vote has raised the spectre of another round of war in Afghanistan after the country was torn apart by years of fighting in the 1990s, which eventually led to the rise to power of the Taliban.
On Tuesday, Abdullah’s team said the United Nations had until Wednesday to accept their demands to widen the criteria for identifying and discarding ballots deemed fraudulent from a June run-off vote. “If our demands are not taken into account we will not recognise the legitimacy of the process,” said Abdullah’s spokesman, Mujib Rahman Rahimi. Abdullah’s supporters think that the more fraudulent votes are thrown out, the more likely he is to win.
Rahimi said if the audit went ahead without accepting Abdullah’s demands his camp would not recognise any future government as legitimate - a dangerous prospect likely to deepen ethnic and political divisions in the fragile country.
Afghanistan was plunged into turmoil in April when Abdullah, a former foreign minister, led after a first-round vote but failed to secure an outright majority. He trailed behind former finance minister Ghani in the June run-off, according to preliminary figures, and has since rejected the outcome, accusing Ghani’s team of rigging the vote with Karzai’s help - an accusation both Ghani and Karzai have rejected. The crisis comes at a time of much anxiety in Afghanistan as the United States, Kabul’s biggest aid donor, and other NATO nations withdraw their troops after nearly 13 years of fighting Taliban insurgents. Interminable chaos as Western forces pull out would be a huge embarrassment for those countries which have spent billions of dollars and lost about 3,500 soldiers in a bid to bring peace and stability.
Karzai, who is not allowed by the constitution to run for the presidency again, has urged both candidates to respect the terms of the U.S.-brokered deal. “President Karzai has started a series of meetings and consultations with both candidates,” said his spokesman, Aimal Faizi.

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