Commission releases disputed 2014 Afghan election results

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission publicly confirmed the official results of the disputed 2014 election on Wednesday, more than a year and a half after the vote that elevated former finance minister Ashraf Ghani to the presidency.

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The 2014 election, touted as the first peaceful democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan, descended to the brink of chaos as Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, traded accusations of fraud.

According to the official numbers, Ghani won a runoff election in June 2014 with 55.27 percent of the vote to Abdullah’s 44.73 percent.

It was at the request of both candidates, who now share power as part of a U.S.-brokered unity government, that the election commission delayed the release of the official numbers, said the commission’s chief, Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani.

“We had given election results on a CD to both candidates at that time,” he told Reuters. “We did not announce the certified results at that time, as both candidates had agreed that based on our country’s national interests, not to announce the results. We, based on our country’s national interest, respected this suggestion. Now it is our duty to release them.”

In the end, roughly 800,000 votes of more than 7 million overall ballots separated the candidates, according to the commission, which faced heavy criticism over its handling of the vote.

More than 850,000 ballots were invalidated after months of recounting under the supervision of the United Nations. Of those invalidated votes, more than 567,000 were cast for Ghani, while more than 284,000 were cast for Abdullah, who now serves in a custom-made role as chief executive.

Efforts to broker a power-sharing agreement dragged on in 2014 over Abdullah’s insistence that the results, which he regarded as fraudulent, not be released, according to officials at the time.

On Wednesday Abdullah’s office criticized the election commission for delaying the release of the certified numbers.

“We do not trust the election commission,” Abdullah’s deputy spokesman, Javid Faisal, told Reuters. “If it was a trustworthy commission and if it was loyal to its work, then why did they not announce its results on time? From our point of view, their announcement does not mean anything.”

Ghani’s office declined to comment on the commission’s announcement.

Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; writing by Josh Smith