A top Afghan election official accused of fraud resigned yesterday, raising hopes of ending a political deadlock that threatens to derail the country's presidential succession as Nato troops withdraw.
Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail, head of the secretariat of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), denied all charges against him but said he was stepping down to save the election process.
Presidential candidate Dr Abdullah Abdullah has boycotted the counting of votes from the run-off election a week ago, accusing the IEC of being biased against him in the contest against his rival Ashraf Ghani.
"Now the door is open for us to talk to the [election] commission and talk about the conditions and circumstances that will help the process," Abdullah said after Amarkhail resigned.
Abdullah had called for Amarkhail's removal since the June 14 vote, which was at first hailed as a major step forward in the country's first democratic transfer of power.
Abdullah's campaign team on Sunday released phone recordings it said were of Amarkhail arranging ballot-box stuffing using the code words "sheep stuffing".
"I have resigned only to protect the election process, and so that Dr Abdullah Abdullah can put an end to his boycott and resume his relationship with the IEC," Amarkhail said. "The audio recordings regarding fraud were fake," he added.
International diplomats have expressed alarm over the prospect of a disputed result in an election to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai.
Reports of the ongoing vote count suggest Ghani has made a surprise comeback after finishing behind Abdullah in the first-round election on April 5.