Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appears set to win a second term after Afghan election officials announced he had won 50.6 percent of the preliminary vote count.
Hawa Alam Nuristani, chairwoman of the Independent Election Commission, made the announcement at a press conference on December 22 in the capital, Kabul.
Results for the September 28 presidential poll have been repeatedly delayed amid accusations of misconduct and technical problems with counting ballots.
The United Nations and the United States welcomed the announcement of the preliminary results.
Ghani’s main challenger, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, won 39.5 percent of the vote, Nuristani said, adding that the results can still be challenged.
A spokesman for Ghani welcomed the preliminary results, while a spokesman for Abdullah rejected them.
Hours later, Ghani vowed in an address televised from his palace that he would ensure equal rights for all citizens, build a stronger state, and bring the country “to light from ambiguity” and “to unity from division” after 40 years of conflict.
He briefly mentioned the process of resolving complaints about the election generally but did not directly address issues raised by his opponent.
Abdullah agreed earlier in December to allow a ballot recount in provinces where his supporters had stopped the process for more than a month.
Afghan election officials had tried to launch a ballot recount in November but Abdullah halted the attempt, saying he wouldn’t let his observers participate.
Thousands of Abdullah’s supporters rallied in November in the capital against what they said was the presence of faked ballots amid a controversial recount that seemed set to favor Ghani.
If no candidate had obtained more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff would have had to be organized.
Faraidoon Khwazoon, a spokesman for Abdullah, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that “we do not accept this decision."
“We will soon announce our final decision after consulting with our political allies, supporters, and the people of Afghanistan,” he said.
Rezwan Murad, a spokesman for Ghani, welcomed the results, but had grievances as well.
“We believe that the number of votes [Ghani received] was more than what was announced,” he told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.
The UN on December 22 welcomed the news and praised Afghans for voting.
“On 28 September 2019, the citizens of Afghanistan braved security threats to cast their votes for a better future; those voters deserve to be commended for carrying out their civic duty,” said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto.
“Now, all Afghan authorities and actors must demonstrate their commitment to safeguard and complete the election, and to protect the integrity of the final stage of the process,” Yamamoto added.
John Bass, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, offered his congratulations but cautioned that more work still remained.
"It’s important for all #Afghans to remember: these results are preliminary. Many steps remain before final election results are certified, to ensure the Afghan people have confidence in the results," Bass said in a post on Twitter.
If the preliminary results hold and Ghani remains president, it will give him the authority he has been seeking to demand a leading role in peace talks with the Taliban.
Until now, he and his government have been sidelined over the last year of direct talks between the United States and the Taliban.