Ashraf Ghani edged closer to becoming Afghanistan’s next president after winning a majority of votes in a preliminary count of last month’s election, but officials stopped short of declaring a winner as millions of ballots could still be reviewed for fraud allegations. The country’s election commission said Monday that Mr. Ghani, a former finance minister, had won 56.4% of the vote in a preliminary count, against Mr. Abdullah’s 43.6%. But with his rival Abdullah Abdullah alleging widespread fraud in the June 14 runoff vote, the political crisis over the validity of the election’s results remained unresolved. One of Mr. Abdullah’s most prominent supporters, northern Balkh province’s powerful Gov. Atta Mohammad Noor, called late Monday for “widespread civil unrest” and warned of forming a “parallel government.” That statement drew a swift condemnation from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was speaking at the Yokota Air Base in Japan en route to high-level talks in China.
Afghanistan’s election crisis has twisted through each of the past 10 days, as the presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has wielded boycott and brinkmanship in his quest to expose what he calls industrial-scale fraud against him. On Monday, he won his first major concession, when one of the country’s top election officials resigned after repeated accusations by Mr. Abdullah that he was at the heart of a conspiracy to rig the presidential runoff. The official, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, said in an emotional news conference here that he was stepping down “for the sake of the country and for national unity.” But he maintained that he was innocent. And he criticized Mr. Abdullah’s release of audio recordings that the candidate has offered as evidence that Mr. Amarkhil was directing widespread ballot-box stuffing, saying the tapes had been faked. The tapes, whose authenticity could not be verified, are a compendium of conversations between a man said to be Mr. Amarkhil and an array of subordinates, as well as people said to be campaign staff members for the other presidential candidate, Ashraf Ghani.
Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s campaign stepped up pressure on Afghanistan’s chief election officer on Sunday, releasing phone recordings that allegedly show the officer orchestrated the rigging of the nation’s election. Mr. Abdullah, a former foreign minister, has demanded that the chief election officer, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil be fired, accusing him and his Independent Election Commission of perpetrating “industrial-scale” fraud in favor of the rival contender, Ashraf Ghani, in the June 14 runoff election. Mr. Amarkhil, shown a transcript of the recordings before the Abdullah campaign released them, said he doesn’t recall having had such a conversation. “I would never talk like that,” he said in an interview.