The convivial atmosphere of the Afghan presidential elections has fallen by the wayside with one candidate lobbing accusations of voter fraud and rigging in the June 15 runoff and the other calling those allegations “uncivil and dangerous behaviour”.
Abdullah Abdullah, the one-time leading candidate who now trails in the poll, said at a news conference on Wednesday that alleged election fraud was “an affront to the rights of all Afghans”, which had “destroyed our confidence in the election commission”.
Abdullah called for a full investigation and has asked for all ballot-counting to stop until it was complete. Preliminary results are due on July 2.
Early estimates put ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the lead, even after another candidate, Zalmai Rassoul, dropped out of the race and threw his support behind Abdullah.
“We regret that Dr Abdullah has taken such a premature position without letting IEC [Independent Election Commission] carry on its duty and complete the process,” said Ghani’s campaign in a statement to Al Jazeera in response to Abdullah’s allegations.
“Furthermore, whenever a candidate decides to run they sign a contract with IEC and today’s decision by Dr Abdullah does not abide by terms and condition of that contract,” it said.
The statement added that Ghani’s campaign would “participate in overseeing the counting process at IEC along with many national and international observers to help IEC complete the process”.
The IEC has denied fraud allegations – including charges that one of its officers illegally transported unused ballots.
Afghanistan has a history of widespread electoral fraud, and foreign observers said they witnessed abuses at several polling stations.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen evidence of systematic fraud,” said Naeem Ayubzada, the director of Transparent Election for Afghanistan (TEFA), which had 8,592 observers working across the country.
Individuals affiliated with presidential candidates, who are not supposed to be working at polling stations, were seen doing so by TEFA’s observers, Ayubzada told Al Jazeera.
Conflicts of interest among officials working at polling stations were just some of the procedural troubles, he said.
“The problem in the first round was ballot shortages, and instead of focusing on the security of sensitive [voting] materials, they [electoral officials] decided to increase the number of [voting] stations,” said Ayubzada.
Nader Mohseni, of Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaint Commission, reported that 2,558 complaints have been filed since the runoff, including 991 against election poll workers.
The two candidates have been fighting a war of words in the media since the first round, and some observers fear this could spur violence.
“These results are dangerous for Dr Ashraf Ghani, but not for Afghanistan – Dr Abdullah has a logical defence,” said Sayed Fazel Sancharaki, Abdullah’s spokesperson. He said “documented issues” with ballots and statements from election observers supported Abdullah’s claims of fraud.
“For example, the level of participation in the second round was far lower than the first round, so how can the [election] commission announce that more than 7 million people participated? We have documents showing participation [in the second round] could not have exceeded 5.2 million. In some areas, there are more votes than people,” Sancharaki told Al Jazeera.
Kabul-based political analyst Haroun Mir said there is a “serious risk of political meltdown” but that claims of an impending “calamity” by Ghani are “overstated”.
Improving transparency by inviting observers from both camps and outside witnesses is the best way to defuse the current situation, Mir said.
“For the time being, [concerns over violence] are overstated,” he said. “But look at our security forces. If this becomes an ethnic issue”, due to the different ethnic and tribal groups supporting the opposing candidates, “then it could start to become a more dangerous situation”.
“Abdullah has set his conditions. If his conditions aren’t met and the [electoral] commission continues to ignore them, and starts announcing results, then it could certainly start to become a very dangerous situation,” Mir said.
Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter: @dparvaz