Abdullah Abdullah, one of two presidential candidates in Saturday’s runoff vote in Afghanistan, severed his ties with the nation’s Independent Election Commission today after alleging rampant fraud.
Abdullah, who beat rival Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, in April’s first-round election, called for counting of round two ballots to be halted immediately. Abdullah also recalled his provincial monitors who were taking part in the vote count, effectively boycotting the electoral authorities.
“We don't have trust in the commission and in their conduct,” the former foreign minister said in an address to the media. “We suspend our engagement with the commission.”
Abdullah, who backed out of a 2009 runoff with current president Hamid Karzai due to allegations of massive corruption, has also accused the incumbent of siding with Ghani, an ex-finance minister.
Instead, Abdullah today called for an international counting process which would see UN observers sit beside representatives from both campaign teams as they weed out what he said are fraudulent votes.
Previously, Abdullah had questioned the assertion of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) that “more than seven million” Afghans took part in Saturday’s polls. A source speaking to VICE News said it was these figures that raised alarm bells for Abdullah.
In particular, Abdullah and his first vice-presidential pick, Mohammad Khan, have called into question dramatic upticks in participation in the east of Afghanistan. Many of the nation’s eastern provinces — said to be a base for Ghani, who hails from Logar province — are regarded as among the country's most violent.
With initial election results still two weeks away, Ghani’s team responded to Abdullah’s statement by saying the nation’s election bodies must be given time to carry out the process.
“In a democratic society we need patience and to let things take their proper course through the democratic process,” Abbas Noyan, a spokesman for the Ghani campaign, told VICE News.
'This will have a huge impact on the Afghan people. The businessmen have all been waiting for the outcome of this election to decide on investments in the country. Even housing prices in Kabul have dropped in the past months.'
Shortly after his statements to the press, the IEC rejected Abdullah’s calls and vowed to continue with the vote count. Noor Mohammad Noor, IEC spokesman, said that both candidates had signed on to certain conditions ahead of the polls, and that this agreement required them to accept the findings of the election bodies.
In response to Abdullah’s calls for international involvement in the vote count and the processing of complaints, Noyan again called for the election authorities to be allowed to handle the processes they are meant to oversee. “The election commissions are official organs responsible for these matters, we must allow them to first do their jobs."
So far, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, an independent election monitoring group, has documented 6,651 election day violations, including the presence of campaign posters within 100 meters of 246 centers, which is in violation of campaign regulations.
Of the 2,500 complaints so far received by the Electoral Complaints Commission, as many as 1,000 are said to be against IEC officials.
Both teams have also had complaints filed against them. Abdullah’s campaign has received 664 complaints, while another 575 have been lodged against Ghani’s team. “If there is fraud, wherever it is, we want it handled by the proper bodies,” Noyan said of these grievances.
Less than a week after the June 14 polls, there are already fears that these political games and fraud accusations could lead to a drawn-out process at a time when Afghan voters just want a quick result.
“This will have a huge impact on the Afghan people. The businessmen have all been waiting for the outcome of this election to decide on investments in the country. Even housing prices in Kabul have dropped in the past months,” Obaid Ali, a Kabul-based analyst at the Afghanistan Analyst Network, told VICE News.
But Ali said the impact would not just affect the business community. “There are no jobs for people. Even if you got a mechanic, in a city of millions of cars, they will complain that there is no work for them. Many people lack money for even basic repairs.”
Ali also fears the other social impacts of a lengthened election process in a vote that has pitted the ethnically Pashtun Ghani against the mixed Pashtun-Tajik Abdullah. Already, Amrullah Saleh, the former intelligence chief who endorsed Abdullah, has called for a social movement on the streets of Afghanistan.
In a post on his personal Facebook page, Saleh, whose anti-Pakistan and anti-Taliban stances have secured him a strong following among Afghanistan's urban youth, said, "Standing up against fraud and forgery is an act of defending those who sacrificed for the right to vote," an allusion to the Afghan National Security Forces.
For those weary of an election divided along ethnic lines, the post by a prominent Tajik leader with an active youth following, will heighten fears that the continued contestation of the polls could lead to a series of similar actions by the nation's largest ethnicities.
In eastern Paktika province on Wednesday, tribal elders and civil society activists staged a protest against Abdullah and Khan’s remarks about improbably high turnout in the east.
Pajhwok Afghan News reported that participants at the event accused Abdullah of trying to push Afghanistan into crisis. Yaqub Khan Manzoor, an activist, told the site: “We have gone through trouble participating in the process and will defend our votes at the expense our lives.”
Ali told VICE News: “If there is tension and a continued economic freeze people will leave, but this time they may not come back.”
Follow Ali M Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye