Afghanistan’s election commission declared former finance minister Ashraf Ghani as the war-ravaged country’s president-elect on Sunday after an acrimonious dispute over fraud, but did not give the final vote tally after a U.N.-monitory audit.
The announcement came hours after Ghani and rival, Abdullah Abdullah, signed a power-sharing agreement to end two months of bitter wrangling over accusations of fraud that undermined confidence in the election and emboldened the Taliban insurgency at a crucial time as most foreign troops prepare to leave.
Independent Election Commission chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani acknowledged grave flaws in the election process and said the U.N. audit could not detect all of it.
The run-off between Ghani and Abdullah was held June 14.
Declared a victor
Nevertheless, he said that based on the official final tally of votes, the commission had a duty to declare a victor.
“The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan declare Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmad as the president of Afghanistan,” Nuristani said.
The power-sharing signing ceremony took place at the presidential palace in Kabul with outgoing President Hamid Karzai and Afghan elders as well as religious leaders present on the occasion.
The two candidates shook hands and hugged each other after signing the long-awaited political deal.
Karzai then briefly addressed the gathering and congratulated both Ghani and Abdullah on reaching the arrangement.
“We hope that you [candidates] can continue the things that the current government started,” the outgoing president said.
Karzai has been in power since the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban from power in late 2001.
Karzai added, “We [the government] are not involved in the content of the power-sharing deal. It is their responsibility. I hope they do what I could not.”
Guidelines of deal
Under the power-sharing deal, the losing candidate, Abdullah, will have the authority to occupy or appoint his nominee to a newly created chief executive office that will work in close collaboration with the new president to govern the country.
Exact details of the agreement have yet to be made public.
Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said Ghani is expected to be sworn in as president within a week.
He said one of Ghani’s first acts would be to sign a long-delayed bilateral security agreement with the United States to allow a small force of foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
Both the U.S. and U.N. congratulated the candidates Sunday.
A White House statement said, “Signing this political agreement helps bring closure to Afghanistan’s political crisis, and restores confidence in the way forward. We support this agreement and stand ready to work with the next administration to ensure its success.”
The U.N. described the power-sharing agreement “as an important step to move the country towards a period of stability.”
The head of the U.N. mission Kabul, Jan Kubis, said in a statement, “the uncertainty of the past months has taken a heavy toll on Afghanistan’s security, economy and governance. For the sake of the country it is time to quickly implement the agreement on a government of national unity.”
The political power-sharing deal was finalized after more than two months of tumultuous negotiations between presidential candidates collapsed. Negotiators from the two sides met late Saturday with senior U.N. officials to write a draft agreement.
The election crisis has deepened Afghanistan’s economic, security and ethnic troubles as the U.S.-led military coalition prepares to withdraw from the country, leaving Afghan security forces to fight the Taliban insurgency.
The first round of presidential election was held in April and Abdullah emerged as the lead candidate, but did not win enough votes to avoid a runoff against Ghani, who finished second.
The preliminary results from the June 14 runoff election put Ghani far ahead with 56 percent of the vote. That outcome triggered angry street protests from supporters of Abdullah who alleged massive fraud.
The election tensions prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene and mediate a deal between Abdullah and Ghani.
Under the agreement, a U.N.-supervised comprehensive audit of the runoff vote was performed and its results are due to be announced Sunday.
Ayaz Gul contributed to this report from Islamabad. Some material for this report came from Reuters.