A leading official of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission has resigned a day after Abdullah Abdullah, one of two candidates vying for the presidency, broadcast tapes of what he claimed were conversations that proved the official was involved in massive fraud.
Abdullah voiced his distrust of the nation’s electoral bodies last week. He accused Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, IEC’s chief electoral officer, of participating in voter fraud after his staff was found moving carloads of unused ballots from the IEC’s headquarters in Kabul on election day. Abdullah has charged that they were to be used for ballot stuffing on behalf of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the former finance minister who ran against Abdullah in the June 14 runoff vote, while the IEC has claimed that they were meant to compensate for a ballot shortage in the province’s Sarobi district.
Abdullah’s supporters gathered in several neighborhoods of the capital on Sunday to protest Amarkhail’s alleged fraud in the second-round election.
Speaking at a press conference in Kabul on Monday, Amarkhail denied that his voice was on the recordings that are said to be from a series of telephone conversations he had with members of Ghani’s campaign team. Abdullah and Ghani headed into the June 14 runoff after the two garnered 45 and 31.6 percent of the round vote, respectively.
Though he has remained largely silent in the matter, Ghani’s camp has questioned the authenticity of the recordings and denied any involvement. Members of the former World Bank executive’s team also noted that such recordings are illegal absent a court order, and called for an investigation.
“I have not resigned under the pressure of anyone,” Amarkhail said. “I have resigned only to protect the election process, and so that Dr. Abdullah Abdullah can put an end to his boycott and resume his relationship with the IEC.”
Amarkhail’s resignation apparently followed two meetings he had with President Hamid Karzai. Abdullah has also accused Karzai of aiding in fraud benefiting Ghani.
The resignation comes amid discussions between Abdullah and the United Nations, whom Abdullah had asked to mediate the vote counting process after he claimed that the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission were working in favor of Ghani. Abdullah said that he would not accept any outcome published by either body.
Claiming that the accusations against him were part of a plot to discredit him, Amarkhail said that he hoped his resignation would put an end to Abdullah’s week-long boycott, which saw the former foreign minister recall his electoral observers from their posts in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
At a separate press conference in the capital, Abdullah, who backed out of a 2009 runoff with Hamid Karzai due to similar fraud allegations, suggested that Amarkhail’s exit would allow him to re-engage with the electoral bodies.
"Now the door is open for us to talk to the [election] commission and talk about the conditions and circumstances that will help the process," Abdullah told reporters.
In the few hours since the broadcast of the tapes and Amarkhail’s resignation, bits of the conversation began to make the rounds on social media.
On Facebook, users joked of a “sale” on sheep throughout the country. The joke was a reference to the phrase “stuff the sheep properly,” which Abdullah’s team has interpreted as code for ballot stuffing.
Among Abdullah’s causes for concern were the “more than seven million” votes that Ahmad Yusef Nuristani, the IEC chairman, said were cast on June 14 — especially reports of unusually high turnouts in the south and east, which are said to be Ghani’s stronghold.
The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan, an election-monitoring organization, has since asserted that the actual figure is no more than six million.
Follow Ali M Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye