Afghan election runoff likely amid thousands of complaints

Afghanistan's incumbent President Ashraf Ghani secured 50.64 per cent to win the first round of voting. PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL (REUTERS) - Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission said on Monday (Dec 23) the election might go to a second round as it begins reviewing thousands of complaints a day after the preliminary result handed incumbent president Ashraf Ghani a narrow victory.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Sunday a much delayed preliminary result of the Sept 28 presidential vote which was marred by allegations of massive fraud, technical problems with biometric devices used for voting, attacks and irregularities.

IEC said the total turnout was over 1.8 million, with Mr Ghani securing 50.64 per cent to win the first round of voting, beating his main rival Abdullah Abdullah, who currently shares power with him in a unity government.

However, if a review by the complaints commission reduces Mr Ghani's vote share to below 50 per cent and no other candidate has a majority, a second round will be held between the two top contenders.

Mr Deen Mohammad Azimi, deputy head of the Electoral Complaints Commission, said there is a "strong possibility" the election would go to the second round.

"Looking at the scope of complaints and objections that needs a thorough review, there could be a run-off," Mr Azimi told Reuters.

The review might take around five weeks, Mr Azimi said, adding that thousands of complaints from candidates had already been filed.

According to the tally released by IEC, the total turnout was 1,824,401, with Mr Ghani winning 923,868 votes and Mr Abdullah second with 720,099 (39.52 per cent).

"President Ghani avoided a run-off just by over 11,000 votes and the complaints commission might invalidate tens of thousands of votes from all candidates," another election official said on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

Mr Ghani welcomed the IEC decision and said the country was on the right path towards prosperity, but Mr Abdullah dismissed the result as fraudulent as he called for a full review.

"There is not doubt that based on clean votes, we are the winner," Mr Abdullah told a crowd of supporters on Sunday in Kabul.

The situation echoes 2014, when both Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah alleged massive fraud by the other, forcing the United States to broker an awkward power-sharing arrangement that made Mr Ghani president and Mr Abdullah his chief executive.

Aides close to Mr Ghani, a Western-educated former World Bank official, said the incumbent was not ready for another power-sharing deal with Mr Abdullah, a former medical doctor and three-time contender for the presidency.

Without a unifying leader accepted by all sides, Afghanistan could split further along tribal and ethnic lines, which could deepen political instability.

Although Mr Abdullah called for restraint, election result announcements in Afghanistan are typically followed by violent protests from supporters of losing candidates.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.