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Afghanistan’s Ghani on track for second term: preliminary poll results

KABUL: Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani appeared to have secured a second term Sunday, after election officials announced he had scored a slim majority in preliminary results from polls that were marred by low turnout.

Ghani’s apparent clean win, however, was unlikely to immediately quell the controversy swirling around the September 28 poll, with his top rival Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah vowing to contest the result.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said Ghani had won 50.64 percent of the vote, easily besting Abdullah, who scored 39.52 percent, and enough to avoid a second-round runoff.

Candidates now have three days to file any complaints they may have before final results are announced, probably within a few weeks.

As soon as results were announced, Abdullah’s office said in a statement he would contest them.

“We would like to make it clear once again to our people, supporters, election commission and our international allies that our team will not accept the result of this fraudulent vote unless our legitimate demands are addressed,” the statement read.

Ghani’s office did not immediately comment, but the president was due to give an address at 5:00 pm (1230 GMT).

Preliminary results were originally due October 19 but were repeatedly delayed amid technical issues and allegations of fraud from various candidates, particularly Abdullah.

“We, with honesty, loyalty, responsibility and faithfulness completed our duty,” IEC chairwoman Hawa Alam Nuristani said.

“We respected every single vote because we wanted democracy to endure.”

– Complaints procedure –

The protracted limbo between the vote and the preliminary result heaped additional uncertainty on Afghans who already are anxiously awaiting the outcome of talks between the US and the Taliban.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which provided support to electoral authorities, welcomed the announcement of preliminary results and called on the Electoral Complaints Commission to listen carefully to any grievances.

“The ECC has an obligation to adjudicate any complaints it receives transparently and thoroughly so the election process may conclude in a credible manner,” UNAMA head Tadamichi Yamamoto said.

The election was meant to be the cleanest yet in Afghanistan’s young democracy, with a German firm supplying biometric machines to stop people from voting more than once.

But problems immediately emerged, with allegations of vote stuffing, illegal voting and other fraud coming almost as soon as the polls had closed.

Nearly one million of the initial 2.7 million votes were purged owing to irregularities, meaning the election saw by far the lowest turnout of any Afghan poll.

Ultimately, only 1.8 million votes were counted, a tiny number considering Afghanistan’s estimated population of 37 million and a total of 9.6 million registered voters.

Many people stayed away amid Taliban vows to attack polling stations, compounded by voter apathy and despair that any politician can ever improve the lot of the average Afghan.

Thirty-one percent of votes were cast by women, the IEC said.

Abdullah has repeatedly cried foul over 300,000 votes the IEC counted even though his team claims many of these ballots were fake or had been cast outside of polling hours.

His apparent loss to Ghani makes Abdullah a three-time loser and his future in government is uncertain as he has ruled out another power-sharing deal with Ghani.

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