Afghan President Appears to Win New Term in Initial Results

December 22, 2019 Updated: December 22, 2019
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KABUL, Afghanistan—Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appears to have narrowly won a second term, according to preliminary results from September’s balloting that were announced Sunday, although his main challenger rejected the outcome as illegitimate.

If the outcome stands despite the complaints of ballot fraud, it could give Ghani the authority he has sought to demand a leading role in peace talks with the Taliban in the country devastated by decades of war.

In a nationally televised address from the presidential palace later in the day, Ghani claimed victory over his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who serves as Afghanistan’s chief executive in a fragile national unity government.

“We will connect and unite all Afghans,” Ghani said. “We will end the crisis and all divisions by building a responsible government.”

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, speaks during a press conference in Kabul. Afghanistan’s election commission said the country’s incumbent, President Ashraf Ghani, has won a second term in office, according to a preliminary vote count. But his opponents can still challenge the results that were announced on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. (Rahmat Gul/AP)

Ghani and his government have been sidelined during this year’s direct talks between the United States and the Taliban. Washington wants to withdraw its thousands of combat troops and end 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan, America’s longest war.

Ghani won 923,868 votes, or 50.64 percent in the Sept. 28 balloting, according to the long-overdue preliminary results announced by Hawa Alam Nuristani, head of the Independent Election Commission.

She said Abdullah won 720,990 votes. Although she did not give a specific percentage for him at her news conference in Kabul, he appears to have received 39.52 percent.

Hawa Alam Nuristani, chief of Election Commission of Afghanistan
Hawa Alam Nuristani, chief of Election Commission of Afghanistan, center, leaves after a press conference at the Independent Election Commission office in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. (Rahmat Gul/AP)

The results have been repeatedly delayed amid accusations of misconduct and technical problems, and Nuristani did not say when final results would be announced.

Abdullah rejected the outcome in a televised speech and also claimed victory, saying the election commission had sided with those who committed ballot fraud.

“There is no doubt based on the clean vote of the people that we are the winner of the election,” Abdullah said.

He said that what he called “the important stage of the election process” remains: for the Electoral Complaints Commission to look into separating legitimate ballots from fraudulent ones.

“The damage from fraud and suicide bombing is the same,” Abdullah added.

The U.S. State Department said it recognized that the announcement from the election commission “is preliminary, and Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission will need to adjudicate any complaints filed by the candidates.”

“We look forward to the final certified results when they are announced,” according to the statement from the State Department.

The UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said the commission: “has an obligation to adjudicate any complaints it receives transparently and thoroughly so the election process may conclude in a credible manner,” and that “all candidates have the chance to raise any concerns they may have.”

A decision on whether a second round of voting is needed won’t be made until final results are released. A runoff is required if no candidate wins more than 50 percent.

In November, the election commission tried to launch a recount, but Abdullah halted the attempt, saying he would not let his observers participate. He eventually allowed the recount to go forward this month.

Thousands of his supporters had rallied in November to protest what they called falsified ballots, and a controversial recount seemed set to favor Ghani.

Afghanistan’s 2014 election was mired in accusations of widespread fraud, leading to a political stalemate. The United States eventually cobbled together a unity government between Ghani and Abdullah, the two leading contenders, but their partnership has been fraught with bickering and division.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban who refuse to negotiate with the Kabul government. Ghani has been demanding a cease-fire before engaging in talks, something the Taliban has steadfastly refused.

The Taliban control or hold sway in over half the country and staged near-daily attacks on Afghan government forces and officials or those seen as allied with the government, also killing scores of civilians in the process.

Additional content by Matthew Lee