Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Wednesday demanded a halt to vote-counting over fraud allegations, taking the country to the brink of a political crisis during its first democratic transfer of power.
Abdullah ramped up his complaints over alleged fraud in Saturday’s run-off election by accusing his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) of all being involved.
A smooth election was seen as a key test of the 13-year international military and civilian effort to develop Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
However, Abdullah’s statement on Wednesday fueled a growing dispute that could trigger instability as US-led foreign combat troops withdraw by the end of the year.
“We suspend engagement with the [election] commission and we have asked our monitors to leave their offices,” Abdullah said.
“We are asking for the counting process to be stopped immediately,” he said.
“Everybody knows... that unfortunately the president of Afghanistan was not impartial” and that some ballot boxes were stuffed with votes the day before the second-round election, he said.
The arguments erupted despite pleas from the UN and the US for Abdullah and Ghani to give officials time to conduct the count and adjudicate on fraud complaints.
“Abdullah Abdullah suspending cooperation with the IEC came as a surprise,” UN mission spokesman Ari Gaitanis said.
“We regret this step, and at the same time we will keep working with both campaigns and the election commission,” he added.
Abdullah, a former resistance fighter and foreign minister, believes fraud denied him victory in the 2009 presidential race, and has often said that only ballot-rigging could stop him from winning this time.
Counting the votes is due to take weeks, pitching Afghanistan into a period of uncertainty as the NATO combat mission ends this year and the aid-dependent economy falters.
The preliminary result is set to be announced on July 2, before the official complaints period begins, and the final result is scheduled for July 22.
The UN said it “needed to learn more” after Abdullah raised the idea of it playing a role in breaking the impasse.
Karzai and Ghani made no immediate response to Abdullah’s latest allegations.