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Afghan runner-up bars electoral officials from leaving country

19 Feb 2020 Al Jazeera

Kabul, Afghanistan - Afghan leader Abdullah Abdullah has issued a decree barring all election commission workers from leaving the country a day after he was declared the runner-up in the presidential elections.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced on Tuesday that incumbent President Ashraf Ghani won the election but Abdullah contested the much-delayed results.

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Abdullah, who still serves as the country’s chief executive, also announced the establishment of his own government on Tuesday precipitating a political crisis at a time when the US and Taliban armed group are on the verge of striking a peace deal.

According to Abdullah's campaign team, the order was issued after reports of election commission workers trying to flee the country, with what they claim was assistance from the presidential palace.

Despite declaring the formation of an "inclusive government", Abdullah's decree came from the Office of the Chief Executive, the post he was given as part of an agreement reached with Ghani in 2014 following allegations of widespread fraud and corruption in those polls.

The order has raised fresh concerns ahead of a planned reduction in violence between the Taliban, and the US and Afghan forces, which is slated to take effect next week, and would be the first step towards bringing Afghan and Taliban officials together to discuss potential peace for the first time since 2001.

The Taliban has been waging an armed rebellion since it was deposed from power in a US-led invasion following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US.

Unity government

Faraidoon Khwazoon, a spokesman for the Abdullah campaign, said that although their candidate announced his victory based on the "clean" ballots, the current government, which includes Abdullah as Chief Executive, remains intact until Inauguration Day.

"Until the inauguration, the power and position of the Chief Executive’s office remains, and all ministries and other bodies, must abide by the orders issued by the Chief Executive's office just as they have in the past."

Though Abdullah did announce that he would be forming an 'inclusive government' at a Tuesday evening rally, Khwazoon said creating that government would take time.

Daoud Sultanzoy, a spokesman for the Ghani campaign, vehemently denied the assertions made by Abdullah. "We went through an election process, and in every election there are winners and losers. We now have a president-elect who was chosen by the votes of the people," he said.

He said Abdullah no longer had the authority to issue decrees and that the government was not obliged to act upon his orders.

As for Abdullah's claims of establishing his own government, Sultanzoy says it was both unrealistic and in contravention to global norms.

"Afghanistan is part of the international community, and as such, we operated by global standards and rules. No one has the right to alter those norms in this country.

"The international community will not allow people who lost an election to cause problems on the streets of Kabul and other cities. It just won’t happen," Sultanzoy said.

Sultanzoy said the Abdullah camp is left with two choices, either work with the new government headed by Ghani or create a strong, formidable political opposition.

So far, the first international reaction to the election outcome has come from the US.

Ambassador Molly Phee, deputy to Washington’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said that the US understands "that Chief Executive Abdullah and others feel that the [election] process was flawed and are challenging the announcement".

However, Phee also said that the independent election commission’s announcement of President Ghani receiving more than 50 percent of the vote precludes any potential runoffs.

Original Link: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/afghan-runner-bars-electoral-officials-leaving-country-200219092501805.html

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