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KABUL - Two-thirds of the votes cast for incumbent Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in last month's presidential election were cast without proper biometric verification and fraudulent, a leading rival candidate, former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said Oct. 7, joining a chorus of candidates making similar accusations.
"This election has no winner in the first round. Both teams [Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah] claiming victory are lying. If only biometric votes are considered valid and the rest discarded, I can say with confidence that Ghani's team will be in the third position," he told VOA in an interview in the sprawling Kabul house where he has been living since he moved to the city in 2017 after making a peace deal with the government of his now political rival, Ghani.
He also expressed his willingness to join hands with other candidates alleging fraud, including Ghani's chief rival, Abdullah. Such a move could give significant momentum to allegations of pre- and post-poll rigging primarily targeting Ghani.
Ghani's team rejects such allegations and Ghani himself, in his polling day speech, urged the electoral bodies to thoroughly investigate any complaints.
Independent analysts, like those of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network, have also questioned at least some of the turnout data presented publicly so far, calling some of the numbers "implausible."
The province of Nangarhar, "which reported a turnout of 22,813 votes from 309 polling centres on Saturday, a day later, suddenly reported 254,871 votes from 390 polling centres - more than ten times the number reported on E-Day," an AAN analysis on its website pointed to as one of several examples.
Such observations have increased pressure on Afghanistan's two electoral bodies, the Independent Election Commission and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission, which are responsible for handling the vote count and complaints respectively.
The initial results from the September 28 polls are not expected till later this month. Final results are expected next month. The IEC has run into technical and logistical issues in gathering and transferring biometric data to its servers from over 26,000 biometric devices used to record fingerprints and pictures of voters, which may delay the results.
The winning candidate is required to get more than 50% of the votes cast. If no candidate fulfills this criterion, the election goes to a second round in which the two leading candidates compete.
However, Abdullah and Ghani, two of the stronger candidates out of the 18 registered, have already declared victory. Ghani's running mate, Amrullah Saleh, told VOA Pashto the day after the polls that their ticket had received more than 60% of the vote.
In response, Abdullah said in a press conference the same week that his total votes were "the highest in the election, and the election will not go to a second round."
Two others, Hekmatyar and former Afghan intelligence head Rahmatullah Nabil, have hinted at a win but have not declared victory outright .
A disagreement between Ghani and Abdullah in the last presidential election, in 2014, led to a crisis so destabilizing that then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had to step in and help negotiate a deal between the two rivals.
International stakeholders in Kabul have been urging all sides to abstain from creating a similar situation. The American and British embassies, as well as the European Union delegation, have been tweeting their support for the electoral bodies and asking all candidates to be patient.
"Calling on everyone to respect the time required for @AfghanistanIEC and @ECCAfghanistan to deliver accurate and transparent election results for brave #Afghan voters," tweeted the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
In a similar tweet, the British Embassy asked everyone to give the electoral bodies "time & space to deliver robust & transparent results."
The IEC and IECC have indicated that they will follow procedures and weed out all unverified votes. That would likely deliver a more transparent and accurate result, but if the vote count, already at a historical low, falls further, it could run into a different set of problems.
"This election had a very low turnout. Any government formed from such a low voter participation will have no legitimacy. It will be a weak government that will not be able to control the situation," Hekmatyar claimed.
The Afghan Constitution and election law do not require a minimum number of votes to declare the election credible.