KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said Monday that he will not accept the expected official results of the election, breaking a pledge he made to the U.S. secretary of state and injecting new tension into an already drawn-out political process.
Appearing tired and nervous, Abdullah told a nationally televised news conference that he believes he won both times Afghans voted this year — in April and again in a June runoff. He accused election authorities of violating the desires of voters by ignoring widespread fraud and preparing to declare his opponent, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the winner.
"We were the winners of the election," said Abdullah. "We are the winners of the election based on the real vote of the people."
Abdullah's announcement effectively pre-empts the country's election commission, which is expected to announce the second-round results later this week following a weekslong audit process to weed out the many fraudulent ballots cast. The winner would succeed the outgoing president, Hamid Karzai.
Abdullah and Ghani Ahmadzai had both pledged to Secretary of State John Kerry during a July visit to the country to abide by the audit's results. The two also agreed to plans to form a government of national unity with participation of the losing side.
That second agreement also remains in peril. The two candidates met face-to-face on Monday, but Abdullah said the talks are deadlocked over how powerful to make a newly created position of government chief executive.
Kerry made a second visit to Afghanistan in August in a bid to keep the peace. The two candidates then pledged to set an inauguration before the end of that month, a date which sailed by without a hint of finality to the now five-month-long election process.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Kerry had spoken with both candidates on Monday.
"In our view, the audit process is still ongoing," Psaki said. "Under the supervision of the United Nations, I think it was confirmed that part of the process had been completed. There's more that needs to be done. Dr. Abdullah has indicated consistently that he will abide by the constitution, and so we're continuing to work with the candidates to determine how we can resolve this moving forward."
Abdullah's latest statement came one day before Afghans celebrate a national holiday to honor a former militia commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud, a hero in the country's north, Abdullah's power base. Massoud was killed two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S., and Abdullah asked the country for calm on Tuesday and told supporters not to mix their emotions over the election and Massoud.
A spokesman for Abdullah had said over the weekend that "radicals" in his camp could foment violence if he is not given a share of power.
On Monday, former Afghan defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said he believes violence could break out.
"I think there is the possibility," Wardak said in an interview. "There are some countries that want that. Both to our east and west," he said, in apparent references to neighbors Pakistan and Iran.
The U.S. has continued to press Abdullah and Ghani Ahmadzai to form a national unity government, and President Barack Obama spoke with both on Saturday. Though Abdullah said the political process has reached a deadlock, he did not say he was pulling out of talks or that the idea of a national unity government was dead.
Kabir Ranjbar, a member of Ghani Ahmadzai's election team, essentially blamed Abdullah for being a poor loser and said he should accept the outcome of the vote given that the audit was aided and observed by the U.N. and the international community.
Abdullah — who placed second in Afghanistan's 2009 vote after what he alleged was massive vote fraud in favor of Karzai — did not say what he planned to do next. He said he would make a decision "based on consultations with the people."
Afghan election officials under international supervision have finished recounting more than 8 million ballots cast in the June 14 runoff after preliminary results showed Ghani Ahmadzai well ahead of Abdullah.
Both candidates had teams of observers watching the recount until Abdullah — who believed his complaints of fraud were not being listened to — pulled his observers. At the request of the U.N., Ghani Ahmadzai then did the same.
The international community had hoped for a smooth transition of power as most foreign forces withdraw by the end of the year. The U.S. wants the next Afghan president to quickly sign a security agreement to allow some 10,000 troops to remain to assist with counterterrorism operations and training Afghan forces.
Karzai, the only president Afghanistan has known since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban, has refused to sign the accord. Both candidates have said they would sign it; one must be sworn in first.
Associated Press reporters Amir Shah in Kabul and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.