SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Afghanistan’s election commission on Sunday pronounced Ashraf Ghani the winner of the country’s presidential election, but it withheld an announcement of the total votes won, despite an exhaustive and costly audit process overseen by the United Nations and financed by the American government.
The suppression of the vote totals was apparently the final step necessary for the two presidential candidates to sign an American-brokered agreement to form a power-sharing government, giving the runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah, substantial powers in what is, in effect, the post of prime minister. The two men signed that deal even before Mr. Ghani was formally declared the winner by the Independent Election Commission later in the day.
On Saturday, Mr. Abdullah’s aides said he would refuse to agree to the deal unless the vote totals were kept secret, since he regards the election as heavily tainted by fraud.
Critics of the election commission claimed that it had been pressured by the international community not to announce the results to get Mr. Abdullah back on board with the agreement.
Democracy advocates were aghast at the whole process, although American diplomats hailed it as Afghanistan’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power.
“Many people risked their lives to vote, some lost their lives, and this is a very bad precedent; to persuade people to come back and vote again will be very hard,” said Nader Nadery, chairman of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan.
But an American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the result “absolutely” could be called democratic and that “the process was in accordance to the electoral law.”
Halim Fadai, who was in charge of the observer team for the winning candidate, Mr. Ghani, denounced the commission’s suppression of the vote totals. “The international community gives out democracy slogans while putting nails in the coffin of democracy of Afghanistan,” Mr. Fadai said.
The two candidates met at the Presidential Palace with President Hamid Karzai and their supporters, quickly signed their two copies of the four-page agreement and then briefly hugged each other, to tepid applause from the audience.
In a brief speech, Mr. Karzai thanked them, and then the event was over in 10 minutes — in sharp contrast to the protracted election process that began in February, ran through two elections and involved a long and controversial audit, which the United Nations called the most exhaustive it had ever overseen.
The candidates’ signatures on the deal forming a power-sharing government came five hours before the election commission announced the winner. While the commission chairman, Mohammad Yousef Nuristani, announced that the votes of 1,260 polling stations out of 23,000 were invalidated, he did not give the total vote count, nor did he say how many votes were judged valid for each candidate. Mr. Nuristani simply declared Mr. Ghani the winner, and left the news conference without taking questions as an outraged crowd of mostly Afghan journalists shouted at him.
Mr. Fadai said officials from the Independent Election Commission had told him that Jan Kubis, who heads of the United Nations mission here, pressured them not to announce the actual results until a week had gone by.
“He argued that the opposing team are armed and they will create a crisis,” he said. “This is very unfortunate. I think the United Nations, instead of supporting democracy, has bowed down to the pressure of the warlords.”
A spokesman for Mr. Kubis could not be reached for a response to Mr. Fadai’s claims.
In a Twitter post, Mr. Fadai published what he said was the commission’s final tally sheet, showing that the vote total was 3.9 million (55.3 percent) for Mr. Ghani and 3.1 million (44.7 percent) for Mr. Abdullah, with 7.1 million votes cast. That suggested that a million votes had been ruled invalid by the election commission, since originally it announced that 8.1 million people voted in the June 14 runoff election between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah.
The commission did not say how many votes it had ruled invalid after what had been billed as a 100 percent audit of the vote.
Mr. Nadery, whose organization also monitored the vote, said it had estimated that the final total would be about 54 percent to 45 percent in favor of Mr. Ghani, even after fraudulent votes were discounted.
The agreement provides for Mr. Ghani to appoint Mr. Abdullah, or someone he nominates, to take a new post called the chief executive officer. The post has substantial powers over the cabinet and a new body, called a council of ministers, while not removing the presidential powers outlined in the country’s Constitution.
It also provides for the chief executive officer to have two deputies, who presumably would be Mr. Abdullah’s two running mates for the posts of first and second vice president.
A spokesman for Mr. Abdullah, Fazel Sancharaki, said the candidates expected that the inauguration of the new president would take place next Monday.
American officials praised the outcome as a result of months of intensive diplomatic efforts to broker the deal, detailing 81 meetings between the American ambassador, James Cunningham, and the candidates since the June 14 runoff election as well as 30 phone calls and two visits to Kabul from Secretary of State John Kerry, and six calls from President Obama to Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah.
In addition, Daniel F. Feldman, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Jeff Eggers, the president’s top adviser for Afghanistan and Pakistan, met daily with the candidates over the past few weeks.