Afghan presidential candidates sign power-sharing deal

Afghan presidential candidates sign power-sharing deal
Two candidates in the widely disputed Afghan presidential elections, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, have signed a unity deal, officials confirmed. The deal will end long-standing tensions over the election results.

The deal signed at Kabul’s presidential palace will see Ashraf Ghani replace the current Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Abdullah will have the newly created post of chief executive, akin to a prime minister.

"I am very happy today that both of my brothers, Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, in an Afghan agreement for the benefit of this country, for the progress and development of this country, agreed on the structure affirming the new government of Afghanistan," Karzai said after the signing.

Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said that Ghani will be sworn in as the country’s president within a week.

According to the draft agreement seen by Reuters, the deal allows the unity government to call an Afghan national assembly of elders, the so-called Loya Jirga, to help reform election laws and prevent possible crisis situations in the country.

The long-awaited vote count in the presidential election was also announced on Sunday, just several hours after Ghani and Abdullah signed their power-sharing deal.

Afghanistan’s election commission has declared former Finance Minister Ghani as the country’s president-elect, but didn’t provide the final percentages of the vote.

"The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan declare Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmad as the President of Afghanistan," Independent Election Commission chairman, Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, is cited as saying by Reuters.

Nuristani acknowledged grave flaws in the election process, which the UN audit couldn’t detect, but added that it was the Commission’s duty to declare a victor.

Both Ghani and Abdullah claim to have won the election, and the United Nations has pushed hard for a "national unity government" to avoid a return to the ethnic divisions of the 1990s civil war.

Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai (Reuters / Omar Sobhani)

A bilateral security agreement with the US will be one of the first documents to be signed by the new president. The deal allows a force of about 12,000 US troops to stay on into 2015 for training and support duties.

In November 2013, President Karzai said he would not sign the deal immediately and that the US needed to bring peace to Afghanistan before any agreement was reached.

Washington has criticized President Hamid Karzai’s government for delaying the signing of the treaty. Both Ghani and Abdullah have promised to sign the agreement.

According to the NATO commander, US General Philip Breedlove, the unity government will enable the rapid conclusion of the unity agreement.

"We are hoping for very fast signatures. And that would be important because it brings great stability to the conversation of our continued support," he said. "We've had fruitful conversations with both of the candidates. We believe that they are very, very close also to forming that unity government, which we think is very important," Breedlove added.

In July, Ashraf Ghani, former World Bank economist and a former finance minister in Karzai’s transitional government, emerged as the winner of the second round of the Afghan presidential election, gaining 56.4 percent of the vote. His rival, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, picked up 43.4 percent, but he didn’t accept the loss.

However, April’s first round revealed it was Abdullah who was leading the race. He had 41.9 percent, which is 4.3 percent more than Ghani (37.6 percent).

Abdullah gets his support from the Tajiks, Persian-speaking people of Iranian origin, and other northern ethnic groups, while Ghani is backed by the Pashtun tribes in the south and east of the country.

The Afghan presidential elections took place on April 5, despite Taliban threats to disrupt the vote “at any cost.” Due to an unexpectedly high turnout, polling was extended by over an hour. A total of 12 million Afghan citizens were eligible to vote. With over seven million voting, the turnout was roughly 58 percent.

From the beginning, Abdullah and Ghani were believed to have the best chance of winning.