Afghanistan to hold election run-off on Nov 7 | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, October 20, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, October 20, 2009

Afghanistan to hold election run-off on Nov 7

Karzai accepts ruling

Afghanistan will hold a second round of its presidential election on November 7 after incumbent Hamid Karzai failed to win a clear majority in the fraud-tainted contest, officials said yesterday.
Exactly two months on from polls that Karzai had been expected to win easily, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) confirmed that he had fallen short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off against his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah.
"The election has gone to a second round. On November 7 it will be re-held," said Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the commission.
Karzai confirmed at a news conference that he would take part in the second round, calling it a "step forward for democracy".
"This is not the right time to discuss investigations, this is the time to move forward to stability and national unity," Karzai said.
He spoke alongside UN envoy Kai Eide and US Senator John Kerry, whose presence in Kabul underscored intensive Western lobbying of Karzai to resolve the weeks of political paralysis.
Karzai also urged the international community to help ensure the second round can pass off peacefully, with about 100,000 US-led troops fighting a worsening Taliban insurgency.
"People need to cast their votes free of any security threats so that by the power of their ballots and votes they can build this country," he said.
The announcement came a day after an inquiry by a UN-backed watchdog confirmed staggering levels of fraud in the August 20 vote, declaring more than one million ballots suspect -- a quarter of the total cast.
An election official confirmed that from a preliminary tally of 55 percent, Karzai's share of the first-round vote had now fallen to 49.67 percent.
Karzai had initially dismissed allegations of widespread fraud as fabricated, convinced he had won a clear victory, but international pressure has been mounting in recent weeks.
"Having a second round seems to me to be very important, because it's a proof of democracy, and for Afghanistan to take the path of democracy is a good thing," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Tuesday.
A second round had to be held rapidly, before Afghanistan's harsh winter sets in. But tribal leaders who hold sway over tens of thousands of voters have warned of their disaffection with the political process.
Tuesday's announcement seemed to nix suggestions that Karzai could join forces with Abdullah, his former foreign minister, in a government of national unity.
Abdullah has long called for a second round, but he earlier told CNN that "at the same time the door is open" to other options to resolve the crisis. He did not specify what those options were.
There have been growing signs that US patience with Karzai is wearing thin, as President Barack Obama wrestles with a decision on whether to deploy thousands more troops to Afghanistan.
After a visit to Pakistan, Kerry diverted his plane back to Kabul for hurried talks with Karzai late Monday. The British and French ambassadors also reportedly joined the meeting.
Kerry, the powerful chairman of the US Senate's foreign relations committee, has said that it would be "entirely irresponsible" for Obama to commit more troops when the identity of the next Afghan government is still unclear.
At Tuesday's news conference, Kerry lauded Karzai's "statesmanship" and said that with the announcement of a second round, "a time of enormous uncertainty has been transformed into a moment of great opportunity".

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