Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appears to have narrowly won a second term, according to preliminary results from September's balloting that were announced Sunday, although his main challenger rejected the outcome as illegitimate, the AP reports. If the outcome stands despite the complaints of ballot fraud, it could give Ghani the authority he has sought to demand a leading role in peace talks with the Taliban in the country devastated by decades of war. In a nationally televised address from the presidential palace later in the day, Ghani claimed victory over his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who serves as Afghanistan’s chief executive in a fragile national unity government..
"We will connect and unite all Afghans," Ghani said. "We will end the crisis and all divisions by building a responsible government." Ghani and his government have been sidelined during this year's direct talks between the US and the Taliban. Washington wants to withdraw its thousands of combat troops and end 18 years of fighting in Afghanistan, America's longest war. Ghani won 923,868 votes, or 50.64% in the Sept. 28 balloting, according to the the long overdue preliminary results announced by Hawa Alam Nuristani, head of the Independent Election Commission. She said Abdullah won 720,990 votes, who appears to have received 39.52% of the votes. (A recent report on the Afghanistan war was quite damning.)