WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has taken the unusual step of intervening in a foreign election, asking both candidates in Afghanistan's disputed presidential race to allow the process for investigating fraud claims to go forward and threatening a cutoff in aid if "extra-constitutional measures" are taken.
Obama called the leading candidate, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, on Tuesday, the day after he spoke to Ahmadzai's opponent, Abdullah Abdullah. The White House said Obama told both candidates that the United States expects fraud allegations to be thoroughly reviewed, urging the two men to seek a resolution that doesn't undermine Afghanistan's fragile national unity.
"He also noted that there is no justification for resorting to violent or extra-constitutional means, which would result in the end of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan," the White House said in a statement.
The warning appeared to be directed mostly at Abdullah, who told thousands of supporters on Tuesday that he will declare victory, amid calls from some of his supporters for Abdullah to form a "parallel government."
Abdullah, a former foreign minister, claims massive electoral fraud is behind the preliminary results from a runoff vote June 14 that put him a million votes behind Ahmadzai, a former finance minister. Abdullah said Tuesday that he doesn't accept the results of the vote.
It is unusual for a U.S. president to speak to foreign political candidates during an election, but Obama thought it was important to reach out given the seriousness of the situation and the U.S. interest in maintaining stability in Afghanistan, the White House said.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission released preliminary election results Monday showing Ahmadzai well in the lead but said no winner could be declared because millions of ballots were being audited for fraud. Ahmadzai had about 56 percent of the vote to Abdullah's 44 percent.
The results marked a sharp turnaround from the first round April 5, when Abdullah garnered the most votes, with 46 percent to Ahmadzai's 31.6 percent. But Abdullah failed to win the majority needed to avoid the runoff.