Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner of the 2019 Afghan presidential election, securing a second-round win after months-long of dispute and fraud accusation. Opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah called the results “coup against democracy” and announced his own victory. The dispute threatens to unleash a full political crisis just as the United States and the Taliban move to sign a peace deal and establish a lasting Afghan ceasefire.

What Happened With Afghanistan’s Election?

The long-delayed Afghan presidential election was held in September 2019 amid diplomatic efforts by the United States to end the 18-years long insurgency in Afghanistan. The election initially was marred with uncertainty by the months-long negotiations between the U.S. diplomats and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar.

The U.S. announced a conditional agreement with the Taliban in early February 2020, before the election results were released on Tuesday. A U.S.-Taliban deal is expected to open the way for the beginning of talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban over the future of the country that has been beset by war for 40 years now. Now, the new round of political disputes over the election risks the fragile process.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission announced current President Ashraf Ghani winner of the Sept. 2019 presidential election, after five months of bitter dispute. According to the commission, Ashraf Ghani won 50.64 percent of the 1.8 million votes cast in the election while Abdullah Abdullah won 39.52 percent of the votes.

‘This Will Make it Even More Difficult to Claim Legitimacy’

“[The results] split the Afghan political class at a time when they need to coalesce for peace talks,” said Omar Samad, former advisor to Abdullah Abdullah. “This will make it even more difficult to claim legitimacy as 50.6% is far from a mandate to build consensus or lead negotiations.”

Hours after the announcement in a televised address to his supporters, Ghani appeared to celebrate the victory. “This is a victory for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. This is a victory of the people’s wishes,” said 70-year old Ghani, going on to congratulate his running mates.

Abdullah Abdullah: ‘We are the Winner’

At the end of the narrow road of the presidential palace in Kabul, Abdullah Abdullah appeared among his supporters to declare his own victory. “We call on all our compatriots who believe in democracy and fairness to stand with us,” said Abdullah Abdullah. “We are the winner of the elections based on transparent and biometric votes. We will now form an inclusive government.”

Another candidate, Rahmatullah Nabil who served as chief of Afghan Intelligence Agency, said in a social media post that Tuesday “was the day of the death of democracy in Afghanistan.”  Nabil, Abdullah, and other candidates’ teams dispute 300,000 votes out of a low turnout of 1.8 million votes and called for a fair audit. Among the votes, 100,000 ballots were registered in the system either before or after voting hours. Abullah’s team claims that the votes were registered in the system to second winning for Ashraf Ghani.

The election commission has attribution the registration of the votes out of voting hours to human errors related to setting the time and date of devices that kept the votes. One of the seven commissioners of the election, however, did not approve the final results of the election.

‘We Will Declare a Parallel Government’

In recent days when the United States and the Taliban were preparing for signing a deal, the election results were wrapping up. “Even if they put a knife on my throat, even if they hang me, I will not accept an announcement based on fraud,” said Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful warlord who supports Abdullah Abdullah. “We will declare a parallel government.”

The Taliban group rejected the results of the election, saying that “it is also in conflict with the contents of the ongoing peace process while keeping in mind the current sensitive circumstances of the Afghan issue.” A U.S.-Taliban deal is expected to go into effect in the next week.

The Taliban has called for a seven-day test period during which both sides, including the United States, will hold their fire. If the test period works and the United States signs a deal with the Taliban—under which the U.S. cut troops from 13,000 to 8,000—then the Taliban begins talks with the Afghan government.

The most crucial parts of making peace between the Afghan government and the Taliban still lie ahead. Opposition accuses Ghani of centralizing the process. The dispute over the election adds to the bitter squall of the politicians over power-sharing and talks with the Taliban.

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