KABUL — Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani is leading over former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah in the disputed second round of voting in Afghanistan’s presidential election, according to early results announced Monday.
Electoral officials said Ghani was ahead with 56 percent of the votes, after coming in second during the first round of voting on April 5 with 32 percent. His opponent, Abdullah, took 45 percent of the vote in the first poll but fell to about 43 percent in the preliminary results from the second round.
Almost immediately after the second vote took place on June 14, Abdullah began complaining of massive fraud. He accused election commission officials, local leaders and his political opponents of conspiring to rig the election. He had sought a delay in the counting process until investigations into his allegations were completed.
Ahmad Yousuf Nooristani, chairman of the Independent Election Commission, stressed that the preliminary results did not indicate a winner, and he acknowledged that at least some fraud had occurred.
An audit of nearly 2,000 polling places resulted in a little more than 10,000 votes being invalidated, he said, but that is a small fraction of the more than 1 million that Abdullah had complained about.
It is up to the Electoral Complaints Commission to further investigate allegations of fraud, and those findings will be factored into any final result, Nooristani said.
He said that 8 million voted in the second round, up from the roughly 7 million that were reported to have voted in the first round.
Abdullah came in second to current President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 presidential election, but he bowed out before a runoff, citing fraud and corruption. This time around he has called for a boycott of the election process but had showed no sign of giving up.
The uncertainty over the election results and the allegations of fraud are threatening to undermine the legitimacy of an election that Western officials had hoped would signal a more stable future for Afghanistan as international combat troops prepare to depart by year’s end
The lingering tensions also risk affecting the future of any international military and economic aid.
Plans call for about 9,800 U.S. troops and advisers, and several thousand more from NATO countries, to remain in Afghanistan in 2015. Both presidential candidates have said they will sign an agreement that would keep U.S. advisers in Afghanistan for several more years, but a delay in inaugurating a new president, or any political breakdown, could throw those plans into doubt.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that serious questions of fraud “have yet to be adequately investigated.”
“A full and thorough review of all reasonable allegations of irregularities is essential to ensure that the Afghan people have confidence in the integrity of the electoral process and that the new Afghan President is broadly accepted inside and outside Afghanistan,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “ It is the two electoral Commissions’ responsibility to address all credible allegations of fraud. They must implement a thorough audit whether or not the two campaigns agree.”
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, visited with both candidates and election officials over the weekend and told reporters on Sunday that any continued U.S. aide would depend on a smooth political transition.
“It would be truly unfortunate if the great progress which has been made in Afghanistan at the expense of so much Afghan, American and coalition blood and treasure were to be jeopardized by political fighting or a failure of political leadership,” he said.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.