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Top Afghan presidential candidates head to runoff

Afghan presidential frontrunner Abdullah Abdullah speaks to reporters after casting his vote on April 5, 2014. Abdullah and runner-up Ashraf Ghani are headed to a runoff election scheduled for June 14.

Afghanistan’s top two presidential candidates are officially headed to a runoff scheduled for June 14 after neither secured the majority votes needed to avoid a second round.

On Thursday, election officials formally announced the official vote tally from the April 5 election. Mirroring preliminary numbers, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah gathered 45 percent while former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani received 31.6 percent of the votes.

Another former foreign minister, Zalmai Rassoul, was seen as a favorite of current President Hamid Karzai, but only garnered 11.4 percent. On Sunday, he announced that he was throwing his support to Abdullah.

The other five presidential candidates each drew support in the single digits in the first round of voting.

Abdullah welcomed a second round and said he was confident that turnout would once again be high.

Election officials said that the numbers released on Thursday took into account hundreds of fraud complaints, but the investigations did not significantly change the preliminary percentages.

At a news conference after the announcement, Ghani complained that more ballots should have been discarded because of fraud, but he said he would participate in the runoff and predicted that he would double his vote count from the first round.

The Electoral Complaints Commission, which was tasked with sorting through the complaints, invalidated roughly 400,000 votes. That is less than half of the more than 1 million votes that were thrown out during the 2009 election, in which Abdullah cited fraud and corruption when he quit rather than participate in a runoff against Karzai.

In total, more than 6.6 million Afghans voted in this election, 36 percent of whom were women, according to election officials.

The Independent Election Commission laid out the timetable for the constitutionally mandated runoff between Abdullah and Ghani. A second round of campaigning will be allowed between May 22 and June 11, with the vote scheduled for Saturday, June 14. The winner is expected to be announced in July.

The United Nations’ representative in Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, called on Afghan officials to do more to prevent fraud and urged candidates to respect the results, but he praised the process, which for the first time was exclusively overseen by Afghans.

“Afghans can justifiably be proud of their elections,” he said in a statement. “On election day, Afghan men and women demonstrated their desire to live in peace, dignity and prosperity. Democratic choice prevailed over violence and coercion.”

The runoff extends an election process whose conclusion many Afghans and international governments are impatiently awaiting so the country can move forward.

Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States that allow for thousands of troops to remain in the country past the end of the year when all international combat forces are to be withdrawn. Both Abdullah and Ghani have said they would sign the deal, but the long electoral process means that U.S. military plans may be up in the air for months.

The second round of voting will also take place in the historically violent summer fighting season, when Taliban and other insurgent attacks typically increase. The Taliban launched their spring offensive on Monday, with attacks around the country that claimed the lives of at least 16 people.

Despite threats and a campaign of violence in the early months of this year, the Taliban were unable to deliver on promises to disrupt the election. Analysts fear, however, that the insurgent group may redouble its efforts during a second round.

Naiemullah Sangen contributed to this report.

smith.josh@stripes.com
Twitter: @joshjonsmith

 

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