- Afghanistan's government is at an impasse as awaiting election audit results
- Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani accuse each other of fraud and manipulation in June election
- Dispute has stymied what was to be Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power
- UN's Ban Ki-moon and Hamid Karzai call for unity government
Afghanistan has been thrown into political turmoil after a months-long dispute between two presidential candidates prevented a successor to outgoing President Hamid Karzai being named.
The country's presidential election was held on April 5, and was followed by a runoff vote in June after the first result was inconclusive. The two contenders, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have accused each other of fraud and manipulation.
Despite pleas from Karzai and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to come to a resolution, the two opponents remain at an impasse, sparking concerns of bloodshed and instability in the fragile, war-torn country. It has significantly delayed what was to be Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power.
This comes at a time as the Taliban have carried out deadly attacks on high-profile targets and fought heavily for control of the Helmand province. As the U.S.-led war effort against the Taliban winds down, most NATO troops are due to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year.
Afghanistan "urgently needs a new government," and the two runoff candidates must form a unity government, Karzai said earlier this week.
"We want a new government and that can be brought to us by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai."
A crumbling agreement?
In July, Abdullah and Ghani came to an agreement, brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, to accept the result of a nationwide audit and form a unity government.
The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan conducted the audit, under the supervision of UN specialists and international observers. It completed the audit of about 8 million votes on September 4, but the results have not been released.
"The audit work is completed," said Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for the election commission on Wednesday. "Only some physical work is yet to be done and we are hoping to be able to announce it in the next few days."
Meanwhile, both candidates appear they are backing off their July commitment with statements reported in the media that Abdullah would reject the official results and Ghani indicated he may not be open to power sharing.
In a statement this week, Ban urged the candidates to fulfill their end of the agreement "on a government of national unity in accordance with the commitments they reached on 12 July," according to his spokesman.
"The Secretary-General emphasizes that this is a pivotal moment for Afghanistan, and that genuine partnership will be required in tackling Afghanistan's many challenges. Both parties share a real responsibility to guide Afghanistan to a peaceful and more prosperous future. Given the scale of the challenges, this can only be done jointly."
The impasse has also vexed Karzai, whose last day in office was supposed to be three months ago. After 13 years in power, Karzai had said that he hoped to leave office by September 2, but was asked by the UN Special Representative to stay as the vote audit was underway.
Abdullah and Ghani at odds
There are concerns that the political deadlock can spiral into a bloody dispute between supporters for the two candidates.
On Tuesday, Abdullah's supporters took to the streets to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the death of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who is regarded as a national hero. At the scene, a boy died when members of the crowd fired their guns into the air.
In the general election on April 5, Abdullah secured 45% of the vote, while Ghani got 31.6%. Abdullah was a vocal critic of the Taliban during their years in power. Although he was once an ally of Karzai, serving in his government as foreign minister, he become an opponent in recent years and even challenged him in the 2009 election. Abdullah dropped out after that election after the first round to protest what he said was large-scale voting fraud.
In the June vote, Ghani appeared to pull off a comeback, gaining more votes over Abdullah. Ghani is a former academic and U.S. citizen who gave up his passport to run for the Afghan presidency in 2009. He worked as an adviser to Karzai and as finance minister in his Cabinet.