political rivals reportedly to sign power-sharing deal

SHAFAQNA – Afghanistan’s two presidential candidates will sign a power-sharing deal after months of wrangling over the disputed outcome of June’s runoff election, officials said. A spokesman for current President Hamid Karzai told the Associated Press that Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah would sign a deal creating a national unity government at noon local time Sunday (3:30 a.m. ET).

The deal is expected to coincide with the announcement of the final results of the vote, which was marred by allegations of fraud on both sides. The United Nations had been monitoring an audit and recount of the approximately eight million votes cast.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry first got the candidates to agree in principle to share power during a July visit to Afghanistan. Kerry returned to Kabul in August and has spent hours with the candidates in repeated phone calls in an effort to seal the deal.

The New York Times reported that under the terms of the deal, the winner of the election, likely Ghani, would become president. However, significant powers would be granted to Abdullah or a person chosen by him to serve as the equivalent of a prime minister.

Reuters reported that among the terms of the deal, the president and whoever held the new position, would be able to decide who held a near-equal number of government positions.

The announcement of the results had been one of the final sticking points, with Abdullah initially claiming that the results were so tainted by fraud that they should not be made public. It was unclear exactly how the issue was resolved, though an Abdullah campaign official insisted that the deal would be signed Sunday when contacted by the Times.

Abdullah believes he won the first round of the election back in April by a margin of more than 50 percent, which would have precluded a runoff. But the official results showed him winning about 45 percent of that vote in a crowded presidential field of 10, not quite enough for an outright victory.   He also believes he won a June runoff with Ghani. But official totals — which the election commission said it would release on Sunday — show Ghani with about 55 percent of the vote.

As talks dragged out, Abdullah’s mostly northern supporters threatened to form a parallel government or react violently to any outright victory by Ghani. For his part, Ghani said he always maintained that ethnic politics in Afghanistan demand some sort of power sharing deal and not a winner-takes-all government.

The agreement would clear the way for the new Afghan president to formally approve a bilateral security deal with the United States that would allow for nearly 10,000 American troops to remain in the country following the end of combat missions after this year. The deal was brokered between Kerry and Karzai late last year and approved by Afghanistan’s loya jirga council, but Karzai refused to sign the agreement. Both Ghani and Abdullah have said that they would sign the deal.

NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove said Saturday in Lithuania that NATO officials had spoken with both candidates and confirmed that both had promised a “quick signature” to the security agreement.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on how fast, but we’re hoping for very fast signatures,” Breedlove said, adding that approval of the agreement would open the way not only for U.S. troops to remain, but also for NATO to begin a training mission dubbed Resolute Support starting in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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