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Both Afghan presidential rivals claim victory, heading for potential political gridlock

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah (C) speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 30, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

The two main contenders in Afghanistan’s presidential election have declared victory, even as ballot counting has just begun, with final results not being expected in a month.

Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his opponent, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, both claimed a win on Monday, two days after the election was held under tight security measures across the country.

Ghani’s vice presidential candidate, Amrullah Saleh, told a press conference on Sunday that the president had won a clear first-round victory.

Saleh said Ghani had garnered “60 to 70 percent” of the votes, without providing any evidence.

“The figures we have is that it will be a landslide victory for us,” he added. “There will be no runoff. I have an intelligence background and I triple-check everything before discussing.”

Abdullah also said in a press conference on Monday that his “votes are the highest in the election, and the election will not go to the second round.”

The remarks were made as the country’s Independent Election Commission is still gathering ballot boxes from the Saturday election. Authorities are transferring the boxes from remote areas around the country to the capital, Kabul, for counting.

The executive of the commission, Habiburrahman Nang, said that no candidate had the right to declare himself the winner before the votes were tallied.

​Afghan election workers stack ballot boxes at the warehouse of the Independent Election Commission in the capital, Kabul, on September 29, 2019. (Photo by AP)

Preliminary results, however, are not expected for almost three weeks and final results not until early November, according to the commission.

If no candidate wins more than half of the ballots, a runoff vote will be held between the two candidates with the highest number of the votes.

The situation now is reminiscent of the election five years ago, when Ghani and Abdullah both claimed victory and pushed the country into months of political turmoil, which came to an end with a United States-brokered deal. Under the power-sharing agreement in 2015, Ghani became president and Abdullah accepted the new post of chief executive.

The latest competing claims could trigger yet another political crisis just weeks after peace talks collapsed between the Taliban militant group and the US in Qatar’s capital, Doha.

The militant group, which has declared the election “illegitimate,” carried out scores of attacks on Saturday.

Election commission spokesman Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi said that the Taliban had kidnapped 13 staff members since election day. Eleven others were also wounded in different attacks on the day.

According to the election commission, at least 2.2 million people voted, almost one-fifth of the total registered voters.

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