KABUL (AFP) ― Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani said Saturday any further delay in releasing preliminary results from the disputed election would be “unacceptable” after his opponent said he would reject their outcome.
The June 14 election run-off has been mired in allegations of cheating, with Ghani and his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah at loggerheads in a crisis that threatens Afghanistan‘s first democratic transfer of power.
The runoff election result was due to be released last Wednesday but was delayed by the commission until Monday to allow an audit of nearly 2,000 of the 23,000 polling stations nationwide.
Abdullah, once a front-runner in the race, alleges he was the victim of “industrial-scale” ballot-box stuffing, with many more votes than voters registered in some areas.
On Friday he confirmed he would not accept Monday’s outcome from a partial audit of ballots ― pitching the election into further turmoil as the political impasse between the two deepens.
“Further delay of the results are unacceptable to us and will create serious doubts and mistrust of people on the election process,” said Ghani, who claims to have won the runoff fairly by more than 1 million votes.
He also denied rumours that a coalition government with Abdullah could be struck. “I can assure you we have not made any deals,” Ghani said.
U.S.-led allies who have fought a 13-year war against Taliban militants and spent billions of dollars in aid are eager to avoid a prolonged power struggle in Kabul.
On Thursday, European Union observers voiced growing international concern over fraud and called for an audit of suspicious votes to be expanded from 2,000 to 6,000 polling stations -- about a quarter of all ballot boxes.
U.S. senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have traveled to Afghanistan to meet both candidates, in a bid to ease tensions.
With NATO’s combat mission ending, the coming months are expected to be a test of the fledging Afghan government forces now responsible for imposing nationwide security.
All foreign combat troops will leave Afghanistan by December, with about 10,000 U.S. troops staying into next year if the new president signs a security deal with Washington.
Any delay in appointing a successor to President Karzai could undermine anti-Taliban operations and also put billions of dollars of aid pledges at risk.