Ghani named winner of disputed Afghan poll, rival also claims victory

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan declared incumbent Ashraf Ghani winner of a disputed presidential election but his main rival rejected the result and vowed to form his own government, raising the threat of new turmoil amid hopes of a U.S. peace deal with Taliban militants.

Polls were held on Sept. 28 to select a president for the fourth time since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government in 2001. But the process was marred by allegations of rigging, technical problems with biometric devices used for voting, attacks and other irregularities..

Ghani won 50.64% of the vote, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said on Tuesday. Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s former deputy and main rival, was named runner-up with 39.52%.

But Abdullah Abdullah said he and his allies had won the election and would form the government.

“The result they (IEC) announced today was a result of election robbery, a coup against democracy, a betrayal of the will of the people, and we consider it illegal,” he told a press conference following the announcement.

The IEC announced preliminary results in December in which Ghani, a former World Bank official, won re-election by a slim margin, but Abdullah Abdullah dismissed the result as fraudulent and called for a full review. Ghani rejected the allegations.

The result echoes 2014, when both Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah alleged massive fraud by the other side, forcing the United States to broker an awkward power-sharing arrangement that made Ghani president and Abdullah Abdullah his chief executive.

    The relationship has since been marred by distrust and a jostling for power in Kabul.

A potential political crisis looms as the United States and the Taliban near an agreement in Doha, which officials on both sides say could be announced soon if an initial reduction in violence (RIV) is successfully observed.

Afghanistan’s acting interior minister said that the RIV would be enforced within five days.

The agreement is set to pave the way for crucial intra-Afghan talks between the political leadership and the Taliban. The militants have so far refused to talk to the government, which they have dismissed as a U.S. puppet.

The Taliban also rejected the result announced on Tuesday and termed Ghani’s reelection to be against the peace process.

Two Western diplomats in Kabul told Reuters that the election result was vital.

“It was high time we got the results,” one said on condition of anonymity. “All Western powers were deeply invested in the democratic process.”

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