RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And during the presidential campaign last spring in Afghanistan, that country's leading candidate told me his biggest rival was fraud. His second rival was also fraud. Abdullah Abdullah was only half joking.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And here we are today, with the runoff between Afghanistan's two top candidates in serious trouble. Election officials were supposed to release preliminary results of the runoff today. But that announcement has been delayed because they're conducting a last-minute audit of more than a million ballots.
MONTAGNE: And Abdullah Abdullah is accusing election officials and others of rigging the vote in favor of his rival candidate, Ashraf Ghani. NPR's Sean Carberry had a chance to speak with Abdullah about his charges and has this report.
SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: The ink was barely dry on voters fingers when Abdullah claimed that Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, the country's top election official, had engaged in vote-rigging. Abdullah said, the election commission's initial estimate that more than seven million Afghans had turned out to vote was suspiciously high. Less than a week after the vote, Abdullah called the elections commission illegitimate and said, he would not respect the results.
ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: We needed to put pressure. This is a very, very serious issue.
CARBERRY: Pressure like releasing secret audio recordings, such as this one, alleged to be Amarkhil directing elections officials to stuff ballots for the other candidate, Ashraf Ghani.
(Foreign language spoken.)
CARBERRY: The recordings haven't been verified, but they did lead to the resignation of the chief electoral officer.
ABDULLAH: But that was not sufficient, of course. Somebody should've answered for his own actions which ruined the foundation of trust over the process.
CARBERRY: Abdullah won 45 percent of the vote in the first round in April. He was five points shy of an outright victory and led Ghani by nearly a million votes. Many thought Abdullah would cruise to a win. But unofficial vote counts with the runoff show Ghani leading by more than a million votes. It appears Ghani more than doubled his vote count from the first round. It's an increase that, Abdullah says, can only be explained by massive fraud.
ABDULLAH: I believe that with taking the fraudulent ballot papers out, there will be a different outcome. But at the same time, the legitimacy of the process is important.
CARBERRY: Ghani supporters argue Abdullah's taking the elections process hostage because he can't accept losing. Ghani claims he simply out-campaigned Abdullah in the second round and mobilized religious leaders and tribal elders to turn out voters. Abdullah doesn't buy that explanation, given Afghanistan's history of elections fraud.
ABDULLAH: We are talking about the situation where, from some provinces of Daykundi, 200 percent - 216 percent of eligible voters reportedly voted in favor of one candidate. That is more than a miracle.
CARBERRY: Abdullah welcomes the decision by the electoral commission to delay the results and audit suspect votes. But he says, the audit criteria are too narrow and more ballots should be inspected. Ghani's campaign argues that any delays will undermine the legitimacy of the outcome and that the voters deserve to know the preliminary results. But Abdullah doesn't want to wait until the appeals process before the final results.
ABDULLAH: We are not here to kill the process. The time is also of essence. For me, it's important that the credibility of the process is recovered.
CARBERRY: The international community has been working behind the scenes to bring Abdullah back into the process. But they say, that's not helped by Abdullah calling for demonstrations, where protesters have been chanting, death to Ghani and death to the electoral commission.
ABDULLAH: I don't advocate those messages. And people are angry. There is no doubt about it.
CARBERRY: And there's a growing concern that Abdullah's supporters will resort to violence if he doesn't win, even if all suspected fraud is eliminated.
ABDULLAH: We don't advocate threat of force. All that we are asking is scrutiny.
CARBERRY: As the uncertainty and animosity grows, the best-case scenario is a new president takes office lacking a mandate and with roughly half the country against him. Worst-case - people fear the loser decides to appeal the final decision not with lawyers, but with guns. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.
GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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