Afghanistan’s rival presidential candidates Monday ratcheted up tension ahead of the release of results, with one campaign team preparing for victory and the other rejecting the vote count in a dispute that could trigger instability.
The United Nations and donor countries have been trying for months to prevent a contested election outcome, fearing political deadlock and the threat of ethnic violence as U.S.-led troops withdraw from the country.
But with the two candidates at loggerheads, Wednesday’s preliminary results look set to tip Afghanistan into a risky period of street protests and uncertainty.
The election crisis comes as Taliban insurgents launched a major offensive in southern Afghanistan in a sign of the challenges that Afghan security forces face with declining NATO military support.
Abdullah Abdullah, previously seen as the poll front-runner, has boycotted the election process over “blatant fraud” — to the dismay of diplomats keen for Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power to go smoothly.
“We have no more trust in the commission or its employees,” Javed Faisal, a spokesman for Abdullah, told AFP. “Whatever they announce (on Wednesday) will not be legal.”
Faisal said Abdullah’s campaign team did not support violence, but added “we will defend our votes, we will demand justice”.
Abdullah, a former foreign minister, believes fraud denied him victory in the 2009 election and has vowed not to back down in the clash over alleged ballot-box stuffing this election.
In contrast, Ashraf Ghani says he is 1.3 million votes ahead in the vote count and has called on the election commission to release the results despite Abdullah’s complaints.
Ghani’s campaign said the election had been clean and their candidate had pulled in votes across ethnic lines.
“The election commission’s announcement will be made after very meticulous calculations under the observation of the international community,” spokesman Daud Sultanzoy said.
“We will welcome the results, which will create a new opportunity for the Afghan people, uncertainties will be removed and people will breathe a sigh of relief.”
When a new president come to power, fostering peace will be high on the agenda after a bloody 13-year Taliban insurgency against U.S.-led troops and the Kabul government.
The insurgents have recently taken ground in the southern province of Helmand when 800 fighters launched attacks ten days ago.
Afghan army and police reinforcements have been sent in to re-take territory in the hotbed district of Sangin, where the Taliban have established a strong presence.