Afghanistan presidential election: Rivals declare victory after record low turnout

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Woman casting her voteImage source, Reuters

The frontrunners in Afghanistan's presidential race have both declared victory following the lowest election turnout since the Taliban were ousted.

Chief executive Abdullah Abdullah told reporters he had won outright, a day after incumbent Ashraf Ghani's running mate said they were the winners.

Neither offered evidence in support.

The Independent Election Commission is still counting votes from Saturday's ballot, with early data suggesting just 25% of registered voters took part.

The commission has counted 2.19m votes from 3,736 of the country's approximately 4,000 polling centres so far. Afghanistan's total population stands at about 37 million, with just 9.6 million registered voters.

However, preliminary results are not expected for almost three weeks, with Habiburrahman Nang, the electoral commission's chief executive, telling journalists that no one should declare the outcome before it is officially announced.

Despite this, both Mr Abdullah and Mr Ghani's teams have said they won, claiming to have garnered more than 50% of the vote - thereby avoiding a run-off round.

The competing claims are reminiscent of the 2014 election, when both men disputed the results, eventually agreeing to a power-sharing deal brokered by the US.

Why was turnout so low?

If the current figures are correct, turnout was lower than in Afghanistan's three previous presidential elections.

The low turnout is in part attributed to widespread safety concerns as the Taliban had threatened to attack polling stations and targeted election rallies before polling day.

As a result, more than 70,000 members of the security forces were deployed across the country to protect voters.

But at least five people were killed and 80 wounded in bomb and mortar attacks on voting centres.

However, there was also a perceived lack of enthusiasm ahead of the vote - not helped by the fact the same two men who had fought for months over the top job in 2014 were the front-runners once again.

Both have been accused of corruption while in office. Meanwhile, unemployment stands at about 25%, according to the UN, and almost 55% of Afghans are living below the poverty line.

What have the candidates said?

Mr Abdullah told a press conference on Monday he had won "the most votes in this election".

"The election is not going to go to a second round," he said.

The day before, Amrullah Saleh, Mr Gahni's running mate, told news website VOA that, according to his team's information, "60 to 70%" of people had voted for them.

A second round would be triggered between the top two candidates if no one reached 50% of the vote.

Image source, BBC Monitoring

Mr Ghani and Mr Ashraf were among 18 men - including former warlords, ex-spies and members of the country's former communist government - who initially put themselves forward to fight the election. Five dropped out.

Not one woman is running for president, and only three women appear on the tickets of others.

Why does this election matter?

Whoever wins will lead a country devastated by four decades of war while the conflict continues to kill thousands of people every year.

Media caption,

Is peace with the Taliban possible?

Talks between the US and the Taliban collapsed after President Donald Trump declared them "dead" earlier this month.

The Taliban refuse to negotiate directly with the Afghan government, saying it is illegitimate. They say they will only talk to Afghan authorities after a deal with the US is agreed.

The US currently has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, and there are thousands more from a Nato mission to train, advise and assist the country's own security forces.

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