Ashraf Ghani has secured a second term as president of Afghanistan, according to final results announced Tuesday, lining him up to become the man negotiating with the Taliban over the war-torn country's future if the US agrees to withdraw its troops.
The results came nearly five months after the September 28 2019 poll, after vote-rigging allegations by Ghani's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who served as Afghanistan's chief executive, forced a recount.
Election commission chief Hawa Alam Nuristani said Ghani had taken 50.64 percent of the votes, compared to Abdullah's 39.52 percent.
‘May God help him in serving the people of Afghanistan... I also pray that peace comes to our country,’ she added at a press conference in the capital Kabul.
Abdullah's team was quick to dismiss the final count, however.
‘The results announced by the commission have no legitimacy,’ Abdullah's election campaign spokesman Faraidoon Khwazoon told AFP shortly after the announcement.
When asked about what Abdullah's team planned to do next, he said they had ‘many options’ and would ‘firmly stand against the injustice’.
Abdullah lost to Ghani in 2014 in a divisive election that saw his supporters hold violent demonstrations before the US finally intervened to broker an awkward power-sharing deal between the two rivals.
Current vice-president Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful Uzbek former warlord and Abdullah's ally, has also threatened to form a parallel government if fraudulent election results are announced.
This time, however, the US is unlikely to give Abdullah or his allies much support.
- A possible deal -
The final results come just as Washington seeks a deal with the Taliban which would allow it to withdraw troops in return for various security guarantees and a promise that the militants would hold peace talks with the Afghan government.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed a wish to get troops home from America's longest war.
His peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said Monday that he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ about progress toward an eventual deal, adding that the US has ‘commitments from the Talibs on security issues’.
Once the deal is reached the Afghan government under Ghani would have to prepare to meet the Taliban and negotiate a formal peace agreement on behalf of the Afghan people.
Political analyst Atta Noori called the results ‘a step forward towards the possible talks with the Taliban’.
‘A shaky government was in no position to talk with the Taliban. Now is the time for Ghani to act as a statesman and form an inclusive team to talk with the Taliban,’ he told AFP, adding that people from Abdullah's camp should be among the negotiators.
As for Abdullah's next steps, Noori said the talks were ‘more important’ than fraud allegations.
Nearly one million of the initial 2.7 million votes were purged owing to irregularities, meaning the election saw by far the lowest turnout of any Afghan poll.
Ultimately, only 1.8 million votes were counted -- a tiny number given Afghanistan's estimated population of 35 million and 9.6 million registered voters.
Voters stayed away from polls en masse amid threats of Taliban violence and cynicism that any politician in a country beset with nepotism and corruption could really chart a new course for ordinary Afghans.
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