Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Wednesday announced at a press conference in Kabul that he has cut off ties with the election commissions and pulled his observers. He claimed President Hamid Karzai has not been neutral in the election process and demanded a freeze on vote counting.
"Right from this moment, we would like to tell our observers to leave their jobs at the IEC head office and provincial offices and return to our campaign teams," Abdullah said. "Right from this moment, we have suspended our relationship with the IEC. Voting counting must stop now, and if our demands are not fulfilled, the results of the counts will not have any legitimacy to us."
Independent Election Commission (IEC) Chairman Ahmed Yousuf Nuristani spoke to TOLOnews Wednesday evening and assured that the vote counting process would continue as planned, with both Afghan and international observers monitoring it despite Abdullah deciding to withdraw his representatives.
President Karzai's office also responded to Abdullah remarks on Wednesday, assuring that the President has remained neutral during the election process. "President Karzai has remained impartial throughout; his issuance of multiple decrees shows the importance he attaches to government impartiality," Deputy Spokesman Fayeq Wahedi told TOLOnews. "He respects both of the candidates and is in close touch with them. We hope the problems we are facing now will be tackled within the relevant laws, in the bigger interests of the country."
Abdullah's announcement presents the most drastic and potentially impactful event to transpire in the election process since polls closed last Saturday, but it followed a series of accusations and demands he and his team have made over the past couple days iimplicating the IEC in a broader conspiracy of fraud intended to hand his opponent, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, victory.
Abdullah reiterated his demand that the IEC's Secretariat Chief Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail be suspended from his position and investigated for fraud. Amarkhail came under suspicion on Election Day when a convoy of his cars was stopped by Kabul police leaving the election commission unannounced loaded with blank ballots.
"Election Day incident was one of many incidents," Abdullah said. "The solution to this issue was simple, the suspension of Amarkhail and a just and impartial investigation."
Nuristani responded by saying the decision would ultimately be up to President Karzai because Amarkhail is a civil servant. Then IEC spokesman Noor Muhammad Noor said Amarkhail would remain in office. "IEC Secretariat head is serving in his post as of today and will in the future" he said.
At his televised press conference, Abdullah said he and his team had evidence against Amarkhail as well as many other cases of fraud perpetrated by election commission employees. He said the 5,000 IEC staffers that had been blacklisted for fraud after the first round were replaced by supporters of Ghani.
Abdullah claimed the seven million turnout figure the IEC had announced was "artificial" and a result of certain provinces having more ballots cast than they have eligible voters. He said his team had evidence of ballot box stuffing and intimidation of election observers.
At the end, the presidential hopeful said he did not want the process to become what it has, but that his hand was forced by the fact that nothing had been done to address his concerns following Election Day.
He also offered a suggestion for how the process could move forward, without the IEC. "A solution is that a joint committee consisting of both candidates is formed under the oversight of UN representatives," Abdullah said.
Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan spokesman Fahim Naeemi responded to Abdullah's remarks on Wednesday. "There is a great responsibility on the shoulders of the IEC and ECC," he said. "The candidates have the right to discuss any issue with the election commissions if they have doubts and concerns, and it is the responsibility of the commissions to address the candidates' concerns and earn their trust."