• Afghan candidate seeks halt to runoff vote count
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     | June 19,2014
     
    ap photo

    Afghanistan’s presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, center, arrives for a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday. The front-runner in Afghanistan’s runoff presidential election has called for vote counting to stop over fraud claims.

    KABUL, Afghanistan — Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah demanded Wednesday that Afghan electoral authorities stop counting ballots from a weekend runoff vote, citing new allegations of widespread fraud. The election commission refused and appealed to all sides to await final results.

    The discord set the stage for a showdown that could threaten Afghanistan’s first peaceful transfer of authority.

    Abdullah, a onetime aide to a famed warlord during the Afghan anti-Soviet guerrilla campaign, said monitors deployed by his campaign to the polls had recorded massive ballot box stuffing and other irregularities. He also announced his team was suspending relations with the Independent Election Commission, accusing it of interfering in the vote and inflating turnout figures.

    The finger-pointing in the June 14 election pitting Abdullah against Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai mars what Western officials had hoped would be an important step toward democracy for the troubled country as the U.S. and its allies wind down their 13-year combat mission. Both candidates have promised to sign a security pact with the United States that would allow nearly 10,000 American troops to stay in the country beyond the end of this year to train Afghan security forces and perform counterterrorism operations.

    President Hamid Karzai, the only leader the country has known since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban, was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

    Abdullah’s team has said its exit polling shows Ahmadzai with a 1 million-vote lead in the current round and claimed election workers and government officials had engineered fraud to help him.

    “We announce that we have no confidence or trust in the election bodies,” Abdullah said at a news conference. “The counting process should stop immediately and if that continues, it will have no legitimacy.”

    He proposed that the two candidates form a joint committee under U.N. supervision to resolve the issue.

    A spokesman for the electoral commission, Noor Mohammad Noor, said the vote count was continuing with national and international observers monitoring the process. Preliminary results are not due until July 2, followed by final results on July 22, according to the official timetable. Electoral officials have said they would release partial results before that.

    “The process will not be stopped. This is Independent Election Commission’s decision,” Noor told reporters. “We have a code of conduct for both candidates. We hope they both will obey that code.”

    The U.N. mission in Afghanistan called for respect of the country’s laws and electoral institutions, saying Abdullah’s announcement had caught it by surprise.

    A spokesman for Ahmadzai’s campaign accused Abdullah of reneging on the code of conduct they both had signed.

    “Abdullah’s reasons for wanting the counting process suspended are not sufficient,” spokesman Faizullah Zaki said. “We strongly reject all accusations of fraud being engineered, and we see that as disrespecting all those citizens who accepted many problems twice and participated in the election.”

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