Afghan hopeful Abdullah Abdullah to reject poll result

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah (R) arrives to casts his vote at a polling station in Kabul on 14 June 2014. Presidential hopeful Abdullah Abdullah says turnout figures have been grossly inflated

Afghan candidate Abdullah Abdullah has said he will reject any final result following Saturday's presidential vote which he says was marred by fraud.

"Whatever results are announced are not acceptable," he told reporters.

The move is being seen as a clear sign that he is ratcheting up pressure following the second round.

Dr Abdullah secured a clear lead during the first round of voting in April, but failed to garner enough votes to win an outright majority, forcing the run-off.

The former resistance fighter and foreign minister said the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and its complaints body (EEC) were not neutral and warned that both would be responsible for the "consequences" of the election.

Waiting in the wings

The backdrop to this is that his rival Ashraf Ghani appears to have performed better in the run-off in some places. Official results will not be released until next month.

Dr Abdullah has criticised the election authorities for failing to halt the count.

On Wednesday he announced that he was "suspending co-operation" following their failure to respond to his criticism of "industrial scale fraud". But so far he has stopped short of calling for all-out protests.

Afghan election workers count votes at their computer terminals at the Independent Election Commission (IEC) headquarters in Kabul on 16 June 2014. Abdullah Abdullah has demanded an immediate halt to vote-counting
A burqa-clad Afghan woman walks past demonstrators as they shout slogans in support of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on 19 June 2014. There are fears Abdullah's supporters could take to the streets en masse in protest against alleged fraud

The question is how long will Dr Abdullah's supporters refrain from taking to the streets?

His rival has resisted making public statements and has the appearance of a confident man waiting in the wings.

The Ghani team also have concerns about alleged voting irregularities, but say the count process and checks for fraud must be allowed to continue unhindered.

A source close to the Ghani campaign said "we are not equipped as layman to judge the performance of the IEC" and rejected the widely held suspicion among many Afghan voters that it has been stacked with President Karzai and Ghani loyalists.

He also questioned why Dr Abdullah was raising issues with the election body now, rather than prior to the vote, suggesting that he could be bracing himself for defeat - after emerging as the frontrunner in the first round.

The 11th hour

There is growing international concern about the destabilising influence mistrust of the election authorities could have and this is only likely to intensify with Dr Abdullah's threat that he will reject a final result.

Dr Abdullah has called for a UN commission to investigate the results. Insiders from the Ashraf Ghani camp say whilst they would co-operate with such a move, they won't get "engaged in a review at the 11th hour".

Naeem Ayubzada, from the observer group Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan, told the BBC that he believed the mistrust is now too deep and the election authority "cannot solve this problem on its own".

The pressure is increasing for the international community to intervene to avert a crisis in Afghanistan.

Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai attends a news conference in Kabul on 14 June 2014. Abdullah's rival Ashraf Ghani trailed in the first round but seems to have done much better in the run-off

But how much will the UN want to get involved?

It has already called for transparency and expressed "regrets" about Dr Abdullah's position, but will it be forced into a position of arbiter and risk accusations of foreign meddling?

One of the key areas in the dispute is voter turnout. The IEC announced within hours of the polling stations closing that seven million people had cast their ballots.

The speed of its announcement has caused suspicion in some quarters and Naeem Ayubzada's observers believe that the turnout figure could be much closer to six million.

If that is correct it could raise the stakes even higher - and mean that the margin between the two men fighting to be the next president is far narrower than previously thought.

That's a scenario many observers fear could be deeply destabilising.

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