By Hamid Shalizi and Sanjeev Miglani
KABUL (Reuters) - Talks on a power sharing deal between Afghanistan's rival presidential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, have collapsed, a top leader said on Monday, rekindling fears of ethnic unrest over the disputed vote.
Under the terms of a deal brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the runner-up in the election would name a "chief executive" in a unity government conceived to keep the lid on political tensions.
But Mohammad Mohaqeq, one of Abdullah's vice presidential running mates, told Reuters the two sides could not agree on the powers of the chief executive, blaming the Ghani camp for hardening its position.
"The talks collapsed two days ago. The political process is now at a stalemate, we don't see any way out," Mohaqeq, a leader of the minority Hazara community, said in an interview in Kabul, as a months-long power struggle for a successor to President Hamid Karzai showed no signs of a resolution.
Abdullah's team has walked out of a U.N. audit of votes from a June 2 run-off ballot, saying it was dissatisfied with the way that fraudulent votes were being handled.
While Abdullah won the most votes in a first round in April, he didn't pass a 50 percent threshold to win outright. After the country's election commission announced Ghani the preliminary winner in the second round, Abdullah threatened to form a parallel government, accusing his rival of stealing votes.
On Monday, a spokesman for the Abdullah campaign said it would withdraw from the political process if its demands were not met by Tuesday. "We are reaching the limit of our patience, we are giving a deadline until tomorrow," Fazel Sancharika told a news conference.
The United Nations hopes to complete the audit of 8 million votes by around Sept. 10, clearing the way for Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power.
The prolonged political transition comes at a time of deep anxiety in Afghanistan as the United States, Kabul's biggest aid donor, and other NATO nations withdraw their troops after nearly 13 years of fighting Taliban insurgents.
Officials and diplomats fear a breakdown between the presidential candidates and the power-brokers who have a stake in the process could trigger conflict along ethnic lines, on top of the deadly insurgency.
Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank economist, is a member of Afghanistan's biggest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, who make up of most the population in the south and east.
Abdullah is part Pashtun and part ethnic Tajik but draws most of his support from Tajiks, the Hazaras and other smaller minorities, largely in the center and north.
TAKE THE FIGHT TO THE PEOPLE
Mohaqeq said the Abdullah campaign would go to the people and let them decide on a further course of action if Ghani was declared winner.
"Announcing the results based on fraudulent means endangers the whole process and takes the country deeper into crisis. It is in no one's interest. It will divide Afghanistan," he said.
He said the Ghani campaign was behaving as if they had won the election and were trying to water down the power-sharing arrangement the two leaders signed during Kerry's visit last month.
Mohaqeq said Ghani viewed the chief executive role as nothing more than a symbolic position.
Ghani has said the language of the document signed during Kerry's visit was ambiguous and it was up to the two teams to work out the details.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)