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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's drawn-out presidential election may finally be coming to an end.
Nearly six months after Afghans cast ballots in a first-round vote, the country's election commission on Saturday said it would announce final, audited results on Sunday from a two-man runoff held in June.
U.N. and Afghan election officials spent weeks auditing the runoff results after allegations of vote fraud, a common occurrence over Afghanistan's last two presidential elections.
The announcement that vote results are coming would appear to override one of the negotiating stances of candidate Abdullah Abdullah: that vote results are not released because, he contends, undetectable fraud invalidates the results.
Despite the recount and audit, the drawn-out race does not appear to be coming down to a precise vote tally. Rather, high-stakes negotiations will settle the country's power structure.
Boiled down to their simplest formula, the talks pit the northern power brokers backing former Foreign Minister Abdullah against the southern and eastern Pashtun supporters of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official.
President Hamid Karzai excused himself from a memorial ceremony in honor of a deceased former president on Saturday to prepare for what is hoped to be the final agreement on a national unity government.
"If you give me permission I want to leave and prepare for another meeting in which our jihadi leaders, elders and candidates will attend and we will have good news for the Afghan nation, God willing," Karzai told the gathering.
As of mid-Saturday evening, though, a campaign aide to Ghani Ahmadzai said a meeting between the candidates had not yet begun and it wasn't clear if one would be held.
The two candidates have been negotiating a deal that would divide responsibilities between the president and the newly created office of chief executive. Those talks have been dragging on for weeks despite two in-person visits by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and many follow-up phone calls.
"Everything right now is a green light. Hopefully it will be announced" in the coming hours, said an Abdullah campaign official who insisted on anonymity because he wasn't an authorized campaign spokesman.
Dawood Sultanzoi, a Ghani Ahmadzai supporter and campaign member, was more measured, saying there was not yet a definitive deal early Saturday evening. "It's been so volatile it's hard to predict anything anymore," he said.
Ghani Ahmadzai is believed to be leading in the official vote count with roughly 55 percent, though both candidates have said they are committed to a power-sharing government regardless of the election outcome.
Abdullah wants the chief executive to chair Cabinet meetings and for both candidates to sign off on the appointment of high-level government positions. Ghani Ahmadzai has said he believes the constitution mandates that the president lead Cabinet meetings.
The U.S. has been pushing for a resolution so the next president can sign a security agreement that would allow about 10,000 U.S. forces to remain in the country after combat operations wrap up at the end of the year.
Fears have been raised that if talks break down the chances of violence increase. Nasrullah Arsalai is an Abdullah campaign manager, but in an interview this week he urged both sides to make concessions and compromises.
"They need to be responsible, act responsibly," he said. "This is not about Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah. This is about Afghanistan. This is about the interest of our allies. This is about all the efforts of these 13 years. This is all about the sacrifices of Afghans and our allies have made. For that reason they need to be responsible."
Associated Press reporter Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.
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