Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani was named Afghanistan’s president-elect on Sunday after he signed a deal to share power with his opponent, ending months of turmoil over a disputed election that destabilized the nation as most foreign troops prepare to leave.
The announcement withheld the final election numbers, apparently as part of the political deal between Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who claimed the process was rigged against him.
“The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan declares Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as the president of Afghanistan,” commission chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani said.
The full results would be provided at a later date, Nuristani said, but did not say when. He acknowledged deep flaws in the June 14 run-off vote and said a U.N.-supervised audit was not adequate to weed out all the vote-rigging.
“Although the audit was comprehensive … (it) could not detect or throw out fraud completely,” Nuristani said, without taking further questions.
Under the terms of the unity government deal signed on Sunday, Ghani will share power with a chief executive proposed by Abdullah. The two will share control over who leads key institutions such as the Afghan army and other executive decisions.
The new administration faces huge challenges in fighting an emboldened Taliban-led insurgency and paying its bills amid plummeting tax revenue.
It will also face significant difficulty in improving the lives of Afghans who face hard times as aid flows fall and as contracts with the NATO-led coalition dry up as most foreign troops leave by the end of the year.
The accord signed on Sunday was the finalization of a broader power-sharing structure brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who swiftly welcomed its signing.
“These two men have put the people of Afghanistan first, and they’ve ensured that the first peaceful democratic transition in the history of their country begins with national unity.”
One of Ghani’s first acts would be to sign a long-delayed bilateral security agreement with the United States, as he has previously declared support for the pact to allow a small force of foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
There is a risk that any instability could be exploited by neighbors, like Pakistan, whose past involvement in Afghan affairs have played a part in the conflicts that have dogged Afghanistan for decades.
“A difficult and challenged unity structure is still preferable to conflict between these two groups,” said a U.S. official in Kabul.
“Having them both working together within the government and direct their energies toward positive reform is again preferable to some of the alternatives.”
Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, and Abdullah, whose main support comes from the country’s second largest ethnic group, the Tajiks, face a difficult task forging unity in a country riven by ethnic and tribal rivalries.
Abdullah’s accusations that the run-off election was rigged in Ghani’s favor had raised fears of ethnic violence, which could have ignited a broader conflict.
“A spark could have dealt a strong blow to the political process, if today’s deal had not happened,” commented Waliullah Rahmani, director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. “But, we have crossed that moment.”
Ghani is expected to be sworn in as president in about a week, according to Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi.
The settlement will also come as a relief for Afghans, who have watched the tortuous process play out since they first voted in April.
Hamid Karzai has ruled since soon after the Taliban government was ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, and the drawn-out election was meant to mark the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s troubled history.
“Afghanistan will now be able to move forward for the next five years, even though it is not an ideal government,” Rahmani said.