September 10, 2014 / 1:02 PM / 5 years ago

Afghan election front-runner rejects equal share of power with rival

KABUL (Reuters) - The front-runner in Afghanistan’s bitterly disputed presidential election on Wednesday called for the release of results of a fraud investigation and said that any political deal to end the crisis should not result in a “two-headed government.”

Afghan election workers count ballot papers for an audit of the presidential run-off in Kabul August 27, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Two months of tension over the election have already marred the smooth transition that the U.S.-led military force had hoped would mark its exit, 13 years after the war to oust the Taliban’s radical Islamist regime.

Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani’s comments indicated he was confident that when the final results - expected some time next week - were released, he would be declared the winner in an internationally recognized vote.

“The best solution for the current situation is the announcement of final results. The international community has shown readiness to support the results,” Ghani said.

Ghani was declared the winner in preliminary results from the June 14 run-off ballot with 56 percent of the vote, giving him a lead of some 1.2 million votes.

But his rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, charged that massive fraud of more than two million votes had denied him victory, and on Monday he said he would reject the outcome if the audit did not throw out enough ballots to make him president.

The United States brokered a deal between the feuding parties to form a unity government that would include the new position of chief executive, who would enjoy significant powers despite losing the election.

The aim of the deal was to prevent the dispute from descending into street demonstrations and possible ethnic conflict.

Further instability in a country already wracked by a bloody insurgency would provide new openings for Taliban militants, with thousands of foreign troops scheduled to withdraw at the end of the year leaving security in the hands of newly trained Afghan forces.

Talks over exactly how the unity government would work have broken down, with Ghani’s camp saying that Abdullah had insisted that the chief executive had powers almost equal to those of the president.

The new position was part of a compromise brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as Abdullah’s supporters began taking to the streets, raising fears of widespread violence.

In that agreement, both sides agreed to accept the results of the U.N.-monitored fraud audit.

Ghani said he is willing to work with Abdullah, but there must be a clear winner with authority in the new government.

“We stood, stand and will stand firm on the formation of the national unity government from the beginning,” Ghani said. “But it shouldn’t be a two-headed government.”

A member of the country’s Independent Election Commission, Sareer Ahmad Barmak, said the final results would likely be released next week, although he could not give a specific date.

Abdullah on Monday declared he would never accept a result tainted by vote-rigging, but he has so far stopped short of threatening a new round of street protests that could deteriorate into violence or be targeted by Taliban attacks.

Some of Abdullah’s powerful backers have threatened to create a parallel government, which could reignite ethnic tensions that in the past have fueled civil war in Afghanistan.

Ghani is strongly associated with the Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnicity, while Abdullah draws much of his support from ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras.

Editing by Mike Collett-White

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