KABUL -- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has won a second term in office, securing a tiny majority of the ballots cast three months ago, according to a preliminary vote count announced Sunday. His opponents can still challenge those results.
If the results hold and Ashraf Ghani remains president, it could give him the authority he has been seeking to demand a leading role in peace talks with the Taliban.
The country's election commission said Ghani got 50.64 percent of the votes in the September 28 presidential poll. The results of the presidential election have been repeatedly delayed amid accusations of misconduct and technical problems.
Ghani appears to have beaten out his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah, who serves as the country's chief executive in a fragile national unity government and who rejected the results.
Abdullah is expected to file an appeal before the final result is announced. 'We would like to make it clear once again... that our team will not accept the result of this fraudulent vote unless our legitimate demands are addressed,' a statement from Dr Abdullah's team said on Sunday.
Ghani and his government have been sidelined during the past year of direct talks between the US and the Taliban. Washington seeks to withdraw its combat troops and end 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan, America's longest war.
In a live TV speech later Sunday, Ghani hailed the announcement as a victory of the nation and pledged to 'represent the whole nation.'
'We will connect and unite all Afghans. We will end the crisis and all divisions by building a responsible government,' he told a crowd of supporters gathered at the presidential palace.
As for foreign aid, 'we are not asking for a donation, our shared interests ensure our relations with countries,' he said.
Abdullah's office released a statement saying the results were 'not legitimate' and that they were 'based on the fraudulent vote without considering the legal demands of the candidates.'
US Ambassador to Afghanistan John R Bass tweeted: '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.'
In November, the election commission tried to launch a ballot recount but Abdullah halted the attempt, saying he would not let his observers participate. He eventually allowed a recount to go forward earlier this month.
Thousands of Abdullah's...