/ 14 October 2009

Afghan election run-off likely, says ex-diplomat

Afghan leader Hamid Karzai is likely to face a second round run-off in early November in the country’s disputed presidential election, a former diplomat close to the United States regional envoy said on Wednesday.

Almost two months after polling day, the United Nations-backed election watchdog is still sifting through piles of allegedly suspicious ballots to determine if Karzai is the outright winner or must face a second vote against his runner-up.

Peter Galbraith, a senior US diplomat who was fired last month from his UN position in Afghanistan in a row over election fraud, said the second round looked inevitable.

”I expect that by the end of this week the Election Complaints Commission will have announced its review,” Galbraith, known to be close to the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, told the BBC’s Hard Talk programme.

”That result is likely to bring Karzai below 50%. Hopefully the run-off can be held sometime before the first week of November which is still possible in terms of weather.”

Karzai, who got 54,6% of the vote in the first round, has acknowledged that some fraud had taken place but not on a big enough scale to require a second round. He has blamed some Western media and officials for exaggerating the extent of fraud.

He will be, however, be forced into a run-off against ex-foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah if a fraud investigation cuts his share of the vote below 50%.

”I think if you could have an honest second round then he [Karzai] might be accepted by many but not all Afghans as the man who won the election,” Galbraith said.

”The second issue is whether another five years of Karzai will somehow be different from the last seven years of Karzai which is of course a government that was characterised by inefficiency, ineffectiveness and corruption.”

Galbraith has chronicled what he has described as UN efforts to ignore fraud allegations in Afghanistan for fear of raising tensions in the volatile country.

Kai Eide, head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, has denied accusations that he had helped cover up election fraud, and said he still believed a result could be reached that Afghans would find credible. — Reuters