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Resignation Of Senior Afghan Election Official Welcomed

Afghanistan's election chief, Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, speaks during a news conference in Kabul on June 23.
Afghanistan's election chief, Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, speaks during a news conference in Kabul on June 23.

The resignation of Afghanistan's chief election officer is being widely welcomed as an important step in preserving the integrity of the electoral process.

President Hamid Karzai said in a statement on June 24 that the decision by Zia-ul-Haq Amirkhail, the head of the secretariat of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), was an "appropriate and responsible action."

Amirkhail stepped down on June 23 amid accusations by candidate Abdullah Abdullah that he had rigged the results of the June 14 runoff vote to favor his opponent, Ashraf Ghani.

Both Amirkhail and Ghani's campaign deny the allegation.

The UN office in Kabul praised Amirkhail for putting "national interests ahead of personal interests."

The UN urged both candidates to return to the electoral process.

Ghani's team said Amirkhail's resignation paved the way for the smooth continuation of the electoral process.

Daud Sultanzoi, a prominent member of Ghani's campaign, said that "whatever has happened has been mishandled," an apparent reference to Abdullah's announcement that he would not recognize any results released by the election commission.

Abdullah told reporters in Kabul on June 23 he may end his boycott of the election results, saying "now the door is open for us to talk."

Abdullah had said last week he would not recognize any results by the IEC.

Hundreds of Abdullah supporters marched in the western city of Herat on June 24, condemning what they described as "widespread fraud" and ballot-rigging by election officials.

They demanded Karzai ensure that election monitors "separate real votes from fraudulent ones."

Protesters said they will continue to stage protest rallies until their demands are met.

A similar protest was held by dozens of Abdullah supporters in central Kabul on June 24.

The IEC announced a day earlier that it was planning to conduct a recount of 10 percent of the votes in five predominantly Pashtun provinces -- Ghor, Khost, Nuristan, Paktika, and Paktiya.

Abdullah's team alleges that significant electoral fraud took place in those provinces.

IEC chief Ahmad Yusuf Nooristani said ballots from 300 polling stations will be recounted for the "sake of transparency."

He urged monitors, including representatives of both candidates, to observe the process.

Despite the crisis, the IEC told RFE/RL the electoral process will proceed according to schedule, with preliminary results to be announced on July 2.

Full official results are expected on July 22.

Ghani's team claims their candidate is leading by up to 1.2 million votes, even though no preliminary vote counts have been announced.

Daud Sultanzoi, a prominent member of Ghani's campaign, blamed the crisis in the electoral process on Abdullah's team, saying it had "mismanaged the situation."

Responding to Abdullah's call for UN involvement in the election process, Sultanzoi said they would only accept an "observatory role" by UN representatives.

He said the "sovereignty" of the process lies with Afghanistan's own electoral bodies.