NEW YORK  - The two Afghan presidential candidates have agreed to reshape the entire government system,  gradually creating an empowered prime minister post nearly a decade after the U.S. pushed a Constitution that enshrined near-dictatorial powers for the president, according to a leading American newspaper.

The move is part of a deal that US Secretary of State John Kerry brokered during his weekend stay in Kabul to ease the Afghan election crisis with a sweeping audit of the disputed vote, The New York Times reported Monday, citing unnamed U.S. and Afghan officials. The change was a central goal for candidate Abdullah Abdullah, who has brought the political system to the brink with accusations of rampant fraud and threats to form a breakaway government, the newspaper said in a dispatch from Kabul.

The candidate who is declared president after a complete vote audit in the coming weeks would then appoint either the loser or that candidate’s nominee to become a “chief executive” for the government, with powers to be agreed on later.

\Then, in the following two or three years, the constitution would be amended to create a parliamentary democracy with a prime minister as head of the government and a president as the head of state.

More immediately, the two candidates, Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, are in the coming weeks to divvy up Cabinet posts, governorships and other jobs as Afghan and international elections officials review each one of the more than 8 million votes cast in the June 14 runoff.

Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai pledged to accept the results and form a national unity government when they announced the deal with Kerry on Saturday.

With no assurances even that the auditing for fraud will go smoothly over the next month, or that the result will be widely accepted, the Times said the change then would require a successful parliamentary election and the Afghan equivalent of a constitutional convention, all under the continuing threat of Taliban offensives to seize territory.

In essence, it said Afghan and Western officials had concluded that the only way to hold Afghanistan together in the coming years, as NATO-led combat forces withdraw and the West steps further into the background, was to embrace what divides its people in hopes of creating a government that could keep them united.

Though the deal brokered by Kerry appeared to be a major potential victory Abdullah, some in his camp expressed caution, the Times said. They said that if Ghani ended up winning, he would probably be able to control the majority in any constitutional convention, and might limit the changes made.

 “I wouldn’t call this a winning situation for us, not yet,” an Abdullah campaign official was quoted as saying. “We don’t know yet what is going to happen. We only have an idea. But it is better than what we had when last week started.”