KABUL, Afghanistan — Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah demanded Wednesday that Afghan electoral authorities stop counting ballots from a weekend runoff vote, citing new accusations of widespread fraud. The election commission refused and appealed to all sides to await final results.
The discord set the stage for a showdown that could threaten Afghanistan’s first peaceful transfer of authority.
Abdullah, a onetime aide to a famed warlord during the Afghan anti-Soviet guerrilla campaign, said poll monitors deployed by his campaign had recorded massive ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities.
He also announced his team was suspending relations with the Independent Election Commission, accusing it of interfering in the vote and inflating turnout figures.
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The finger-pointing in the Saturday runoff pitting Abdullah against Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai mars what Western officials had hoped would be an important step toward democracy for the troubled country as the U.S. and its allies wind down their 13-year combat mission.
Both candidates have promised to sign a security pact with the United States that would allow nearly 10,000 U.S. troops to stay beyond the end of this year to train Afghan security forces and perform counterterrorism operations.
President Hamid Karzai, the only leader the country has known since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban, was constitutionally barred from a third term.
Abdullah’s team has said its exit polling shows Ahmadzai with a 1 million-vote lead in the current round and claimed election workers and government officials had engineered fraud to help him.
“We announce that we have no confidence or trust in the election bodies,” Abdullah said at a news conference. “The counting process should stop immediately and if that continues, it will have no legitimacy.”
He proposed that the two candidates form a joint committee under U.N. supervision to resolve the issue.
A spokesman for the electoral commission, Noor Mohammad Noor, said the count was continuing with national and international observers monitoring the process.
Preliminary results are not due until July 2, followed by final results July 22, according to the official timetable. Electoral officials have said they would release partial results before that.
The U.N. mission in Afghanistan called for respect of the country’s laws and electoral institutions, saying Abdullah’s announcement had caught it by surprise.
“Regrettable as this step may be, we will continue to engage closely with both campaigns and the electoral commissions, consulting with them on a way forward,” the U.N.’s special representative, Jan Kubish, said.
Ahmadzai’s campaign spokesman accused Abdullah of reneging on the of conduct code both had signed.
A spokeswoman for Karzai’s office, Adela Raz, said Karzai respects both candidates and hopes the problem could be resolved.
An initial turnout estimate suggested 7 million voters defied a Taliban threat of violence to cast ballots, which would be 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters and equivalent to the first round.
Abdullah’s comments come as he is fighting for his second chance at the presidency. He was the runner-up to Karzai in disputed 2009 elections, but dropped out of the race before a runoff could be held because of vote-rigging.
The first round of voting April 5 went relatively smoothly as six other candidates were eliminated.