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Afghanistan gets new president, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai

Sydney Morning Herald - September 22, 2014

Rod Nordland, Kabul, Afghanistan Afghanistan's election commission on Sunday pronounced Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai the winner of the country's presidential election, but it withheld an announcement of the total votes won, despite an exhaustive and costly audit process overseen by the United Nations and financed by the US government.

The suppression of the vote totals was apparently the final step necessary for the two presidential candidates to sign a US-brokered agreement to form a power-sharing government, giving the runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah, substantial powers in what is, in effect, the post of prime minister.

The two men signed that deal even before Ahmadzai was formally declared the winner by the Independent Election Commission later in the day.

On Saturday, Abdullah's aides said he would refuse to agree to the deal unless the vote totals were kept secret, since he regards the election as heavily tainted by fraud.

Critics of the election commission claimed that it had been pressured by the international community not to announce the results to get Abdullah back on board with the agreement. Democracy advocates were aghast at the whole process, although US diplomats hailed it as Afghanistan's first peaceful, democratic transfer of power.

"Many people risked their lives to vote, some lost their lives, and this is a very bad precedent; to persuade people to come back and vote again will be very hard," said Nader Nadery, chairman of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan.

But a US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the result "absolutely" could be called democratic and that "the process was in accordance to the electoral law."

Halim Fadai, who was in charge of the observer team for Ahmadzai, denounced the commission's suppression of the vote totals. "The international community gives out democracy slogans while putting nails in the coffin of democracy of Afghanistan," Fadai said.

In a Twitter post, Fadai published what he said was the commission's final tally sheet, showing that the vote total was 3.9 million (55.3 percent) for Ghani and 3.1 million (44.7 percent) for Abdullah, with 7.1 million votes cast.

That suggested that a million votes had been ruled invalid by the election commission, since originally it announced that 8.1 million people voted in the June 14 runoff election between Ahmadzai and Abdullah. The commission did not say how many votes it had ruled invalid after what had been billed as a 100 percent audit of the vote.

Nadery, whose organisation also monitored the vote, said it had estimated that the final total would be about 54 percent to 45 percent in favor of Ahmadzai, even after fraudulent votes were discounted.

The agreement provides for Ahmadzai to appoint Abdullah, or someone he nominates, to take a new post called the chief executive officer. The post has substantial powers over the cabinet and a new body, called a council of ministers, while not removing the presidential powers outlined in the country's constitution.

It also provides for the chief executive officer to have two deputies, who presumably would be Abdullah's two running mates for the posts of first and second vice president.

A spokesman for Abdullah, Fazel Sancharaki, said the candidates expected that the inauguration of the new president would take place next Monday.

US officials praised the outcome as a result of months of intensive diplomatic efforts to broker the deal, detailing 81 meetings between the US ambassador, James Cunningham, and the candidates since the June 14 runoff election as well as 30 phone calls and two visits to Kabul from Secretary of State John Kerry, and six calls from President Barack Obama to Ahmadzai and Abdullah.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/afghanistan-gets-new-president-ashraf-ghani-ahmadzai-20140922-10k4hd.html.

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