Afghanistan’s new president has finally been named, ending months of tension.
The country’s election commission said Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai will be the next president, and his one-time rival Abdullah Abdullah, will fill the newly created position of chief executive, a post similar to prime minister.
The decision came just hours after the leading candidates signed a power-sharing deal, but the commission pointedly did not release final vote totals amid concerns that doing so could inflame tensions.
The deal brings to a close an election season that began in April, when millions of Afghans first went to the polls despite threats from Taliban militants, and ended when the two candidates signed a national unity government agreement and embraced in a hug.
In between, the Abdullah camp alleged that its cause was cheated by massive vote fraud.
A nation long tired of election bluffs and threats seemed to accept the electoral deal with a shrug. There were no mass celebrations in the streets of Kabul, and Afghan journalists reacted angrily when the election commission declined to release final results.
The US applauded the deal and the White House said that “respect for the democratic process” is the only viable path forward for Afghanistan.
But to many in Kabul, the next Afghan government appeared to be more a product of negotiation than vote tallies, especially given the fact a final count was not even released.
“I don’t think anyone will vote again,” said Masie Hajizada, a 26-year-old businessman. “They will have to do a lot of campaigning to get us to vote.”
US officials said they believed Mr Ghani Ahmadzai would sign a security agreement soon after taking his oath of office that would allow some 10,000 American forces to remain in Afghanistan next year.
After 13 years of war following the September 11, 2001, attacks, all combat troops are to withdraw by the end of 2014.
Mr Ghani Ahmadzai and Mr Abdullah signed the national unity government deal as President Hamid Karzai – in power since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban – looked on.
It took weeks of negotiations to form a power-sharing arrangement after accusations of fraud in the June run-off vote.
“I am very happy today that both of my brothers, Dr Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah, in an Afghan agreement for the benefit of this country, for the progress and development of this country, that they agreed on the structure affirming the new government of Afghanistan,” Mr Karzai said.
The deal is a victory for US secretary of state John Kerry, who first got the candidates to agree in principle to share power during a July visit to Afghanistan.
He returned to Kabul in August and has spent hours with the candidates, including in repeated phone calls, in an effort to seal the deal.
Mr Kerry praised the two leaders, saying the agreement helps bring closure to Afghanistan’s political crisis.
“Americans know very well that the road to democracy is contentious and challenging, but it’s a road that leads to the best place,” he said.
The decision not to release vote totals underscores the fear of potential violence despite yesterday’s deal.
One of Mr Abdullah’s final demands was that the election commission not release the vote count because of the fraud he alleges took place.
Supporters of Mr Ghani Admadzai and election commission reports circulating on social media said the final vote gave him roughly 55% and Mr Abdullah about 45%.
The four-page power sharing contract says the relationship between president and chief executive must be defined by “partnership, collegiality, collaboration, and, most importantly, responsibility to the people of Afghanistan”.
An inauguration ceremony was expected within days. Mr Abdullah’s spokesman Fazel Sancharaki said the event could be held next Monday.