SHAFAQNA- Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner of Afghanistan’s contested presidential election on Sunday, hours after Ghani and the second-place finisher, Abdullah Abdullah, stood together to announce the formation of a long-awaited coalition government.
The conclusion of Afghanistan’s tumultuous, year-long election sets the stage for President Hamid Karzai’s departure from office, as well as a security agreement allowing American troops to remain in the country after this year.
Ghani, who will become Afghanistan’s second president since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, joined Abdullah and Karzai in announcing the new government. Ghani and Abdullah will share power for the next five years, with Ghani serving as president and Abdullah as a chief executive officer.
“The election has reached its end with today’s announcement,” the head of the Afghan Independent Election Commission, Yousef Nuristani, told a nationally televised audience about 5 p.m.
A few hours earlier, Abdullah and Ghani signed their agreement in an ornate hall at the presidential palace and then briefly hugged. But neither candidate spoke, leaving it up to Karzai to formally address an election-fatigued nation.
“The Afghan people have been waiting for this happy day,” said Karzai, who became president in late 2001 but will step down in the coming days. “I hope the things I couldn’t do, you two can do.”
Abdullah is a former foreign minister, and both he Ghani have pledged to work to improve relations with the United States, boost public services and crack down on public corruption.Their deal appears to cement an arrangement that Secretary of State John F. Kerry brokered this summer when it appeared Afghanistan risked slipping back into the kind of ethnic violence that dogged it for much of its history.
The inauguration of the new government will probably take place late this week or early next week, Afghan and U.S. officials said. But it remained unclear Sunday whether Afghans will ever learn the true results of an election that was undermined by allegations of fraud.
Amid concern that Abdullah supporters could revolt over Ghani’s victory, Nuristani did not reveal Ghani’s winning margin. Instead, he simply said Ghani had prevailed while conceding that hundreds of thousands of votes cast for both candidates were suspected of being fraudulent.
“The audit was inclusive and credible, but it couldn’t uncover all items of the fraud,” Nuristani said
Two senior Obama administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Sunday they expect that eventually the full results of the election will be released.
“It’s just a question of how quickly they will be made transparent,” one official said. “They had concerns about potential volatility if there was an immediate and full release.”
But the lack of final results could add to persisting doubts about Afghanistan’s ability to hold democratic elections. And even if a new government is sworn in this week, many leaders and analysts remain skeptical about its long-term viability.
“This whole agreement and process is out of Afghan law and unconstitutional,” said Mohammad Ali Elizadah, a member of parliament from the central province of Ghazni. “This political agreement is a temporary solution, and I don’t think we will have an efficient and effective government.”
Still, the White House hailed the agreement, saying it will “bring closure to Afghanistan’s political crisis, and restores confidence in the way forward.”
“In the days to come, Afghanistan has an enormous opportunity to grow stronger from this recent moment of testing,” Kerry said in a separate statement.
In April, defying threats of violence from Taliban militants, millions of Afghans turned out to choose among eight presidential candidates. Abdullah finished first in that contest, but failed to get 50 percent of the vote, forcing a June runoff against second-place finisher Ghani. Ghani won the runoff by more than 1 million votes, prompting Abdullah to question the results.
Amid threats of violence from Abdullah supporters and calls for the formation of a parallel government, the deal brokered by Kerry called for a recount and then the formation of the coalition government.
But the recount process dragged on for several months under the supervision of foreign observers, and Ghani and Abdullah have haggled for weeks over who would hold what powers in the new government.
To finalize the deal, President Obama had to make three phone calls to each candidates, and Kerry made 13 calls to Ghani and 14 to Abdullah, according to a senior administration official. In one particularly blunt call to Abdullah on Wednesday, Kerry warned that the international coalition’s patience was running out.
“If you don’t come to agreement now, today, the possibilities for Afghanistan will become very difficult, if not dangerous,” Kerry said, according to the American official. “I really need to emphasize to you that if you do not have an agreement, if you do not move to a unity government, the United States will not be able to support Afghanistan.”
Under the terms of the agreement signed Sunday, Ghani and Abdullah will be expected to make decisions jointly and split appointment-making powers. Both men will sit on the country’s National Security Council, but U.S. officials stressed Sunday that Ghani will retain ultimate control over the country’s armed forces.
The agreement also stipulates that the chief executive officer will be answerable to the president.
Although Abdullah will become the country’s de facto prime minister, a position that currently does not exist under the constitution, both camps agreed to work to amend the document in the coming years.
Afghanistan’s lengthy election process has been blamed for an economic slowdown, a crippling budget shortfall and deteriorating security in parts of the country. With Ghani and Abdullah now united, Afghans were divided Sunday over the outcome.
“There has been no business since the election-related tensions started,” said Mohammad Faisal, a 31-year-old shopkeeper in Kabul. “If they work together and put aside their differences, everything will be all right.”
For other Afghans, the agreement stokes even more fears.
“I see no good future for the national unity government,” said Yousef, a 28-year-old taxi driver who like many Afghans uses only one name. “If it takes this long for them to reach an agreement on a national government, God knows in the future how much contention will take place in the appointment of a single police chief or a district governor.”
And noting the absence of final results, some Ghani supporters said they feel disenfranchised and warn it will set a troubling precedent for future Afghan elections.
“No institution has the right to ignore a single vote of the Afghan people,” said Jafar Mahdawi, a lawmaker from Kabul who supported Ghani. “The signed agreement is extra-constitutional, and based on the facts on the ground the national unity government is like a ‘pain-killer drug’ that in the short run will mitigate the tensions but in the long run will be the source of troubles.”
U.S. officials, however, saw few good options for resolving the stalemate without the formation of a unity government. Over the summer and into the fall, there were concerns the country could slip into civil war should the two candidates fail to resolve their differences.
Ghani is an ethnic Pashtun who draws the bulk of his support from southern and eastern Afghanistan. Abdullah’s mother was Tajik, but he had a Pashtun father and considers his power base to be in ethnically diverse northern Afghanistan.
Ghani, a former World Bank official, spent part of his life in the United States but returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban to serve in Karzai’s government in the early 2000s. He left his job as finance minister in 2004 and became head of Kabul University.
Abdullah, an eye doctor, was a top aide to legendary Afghan guerrilla commander Ahmed Shah Massoud during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s. He later became a diplomat, and served as foreign minister from 2002 until Karzai ousted him in 2006.
During this year’s campaign, both Abdullah and Ghani had stressed a desire to improve relations with the United States that had become strained during Karzai’s second term in office. Both have pledged to quickly sign the security agreement with the United States allowing up to 15,000 foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan through 2024.
But Obama said this summer that he plans to keep only 10,000 troops in Afghanistan next year. He plans to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.