Election commission declares incumbent Ashraf Ghani winner of disputed presidential election held almost five months ago, but rivals say commission and outcome "have no legitimacy."
Ashraf Ghani has secured a second term as president of Afghanistan, according to final results announced on Tuesday, lining him up to become the man negotiating with the Taliban over the country's future if the US agrees to withdraw its troops.
The results came nearly five months after the September 28, 2019, poll, after vote-rigging allegations by Ghani's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who served as Afghanistan's chief executive, forced a recount.
Election commission chief Hawa Alam Nuristani said Ghani had taken 50.64 percent of the votes, compared to Abdullah's 39.52 percent.
"May God help him in serving the people of Afghanistan ... I also pray that peace comes to our country," she added at a press conference in the capital Kabul.
2/2 We do not accept the fraudulent results. We are announcing our victory. We will now form an inclusive government. We call on all our compatriots who believe in democracy & fairness to stand with us. God protect our country. pic.twitter.com/FRA3eVOcfp— Dr. Abdullah Abdullah (@DrabdullahCE) February 18, 2020
Taliban, Abdullah reject result
Abdullah was quick to dismiss the final count. He said he would form his own parallel government instead.
"Our team, based on clean and biometric votes, is the victor and we declare our victory. The fraudsters are the shame of history and we announce our inclusive government," Abdullah said at a press conference in Kabul.
"The results announced by the commission have no legitimacy," Abdullah's election campaign spokesman Faraidoon Khwazoon told AFP news agency shortly after the announcement.
The Taliban too in a statement called the election a "fraud" and has maintained that the Afghan government is a "puppet" of the United States.
"After the end of the invasion the Muslim people of Afghanistan will decide about their internal issues and will adopt their political faith," the statement said.
Spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah on #Afghanistan's election result:— Frud Bezhan فرود بيژن (@FrudBezhan) February 18, 2020
"This announcement is unacceptable. We stand against it. We use all options on the table," Faridoon Khwazoon told @DaRadioAzadi
Election commission said Ghani won reelection with 50.6%, Abdullah with 39.5%.
Fractures within, Taliban talks
Abdullah lost to Ghani in 2014 in a divisive election that saw his supporters hold violent demonstrations before the US finally intervened to broker an awkward power-sharing deal between the two rivals.
Current Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek strongman, and Abdullah's ally, has also threatened to form a parallel government if fraudulent election results are announced.
This time, however, the US is unlikely to give Abdullah or his allies much support.
The final results come just as Washington seeks a deal with the Taliban which would allow it to withdraw troops in return for various security guarantees and a promise that Taliban would hold peace talks with the Afghan government.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed a wish to get troops home from America's longest war.
His peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Monday that he was "cautiously optimistic" about progress toward an eventual deal, adding that the US has "commitments from the Talibs on security issues."
Once the deal is reached the Afghan government under Ghani would have to prepare to meet the Taliban and negotiate a formal peace agreement on behalf of the Afghan people.
Gen. #Dostum: The election commission should announce the final results of presidential election as soon as possible. If the commission once again, with forged votes, announce president Ghani as winner of election, I will announce parallel government in the north of Afghanistan. https://t.co/HtPz8n1bmf— Abdul Mateen Imran (@AbMateenImran) February 13, 2020
Ghani in strong position?
Political analyst Atta Noori called the results "a step forward towards the possible talks with the Taliban."
"A shaky government was in no position to talk with the Taliban. Now is the time for Ghani to act as a statesman and form an inclusive team to talk with the Taliban," he told AFP, adding that people from Abdullah's camp should be among the negotiators.
As for Abdullah's next steps, Noori said the talks were "more important" than fraud allegations.
Two Western diplomats in Kabul told Reuters news agency that the election result was vital.
“It was high time we got the results," one said on condition of anonymity. "All Western powers were deeply invested in the democratic process."
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 given Afghanistan's estimated population of 35 million and 9.6 million registered voters.
Voters stayed away from polls en masse amid threats of Taliban violence and cynicism that any politician in a country beset with nepotism and corruption could really chart a new course for ordinary Afghans.