/ 20 October 2009

Karzai ‘to accept vote ruling’ to avert chaos

President Hamid Karzai will accept final results due later on Tuesday from Afghanistan’s chaotic election, officials said after frantic Western lobbying to resolve two months of political paralysis.

The announcement from Karzai’s beleaguered camp came after a United Nations-backed investigation confirmed staggering levels of fraud in the August 20 vote, declaring more than one million ballots suspect — a quarter of the total cast.

It was the first public statement from Karzai’s campaign team that the president would respect the law, and implied he would accept a second-round vote against chief rival Abdullah Abdullah if electoral authorities order one.

After weeks of controversy at a time when Western forces are striving to pacify a bloody Taliban insurgency, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said it would announce the final results later on Tuesday.

”Our commissioners are currently in a meeting and when the meeting is finished we will make our announcement of the final results,” spokesperson Noor Mohammad Noor told Agence France-Presse.

Karzai spokesperson Waheed Omar said: ”We have to wait for the final announcement through legal channels, which is the Independent Election Commission.

”And once the IEC announces the results then we are bound to accept it, based on the law,” Omar said.

The IEC was debating the report by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), whose findings appeared to have pushed Karzai’s vote total below the 50% threshold he required for outright victory.

The legal requirement then would be a run-off vote in two weeks between Karzai and Abdullah, the president’s former foreign minister who trailed in preliminary results with 28% of the August total.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said it was ”very important” for Karzai to face a run-off.

”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,” he told France Info radio.

But time is short for a new election before Afghanistan’s harsh winter sets in. Tribal leaders who hold sway over tens of thousands of voters have also warned of their disaffection with the political process.

Another scenario touted in Western capitals is for Karzai and Abdullah to join forces in a government of national unity.

Abdullah, who has long called for a second round, 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 are 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.

”It is going to be incredibly important for the world to see that Afghan leaders are willing to make this process legitimate,” White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said.

After a visit to Pakistan, powerful US Senator John Kerry diverted his plane back to Kabul for hurried talks with Karzai late on Monday. The British and French ambassadors also reportedly joined the meeting.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said she expected Karzai to reveal his intentions later on Tuesday and voiced hope of a resolution ”in the next several days”.

A Western official close to the voting process said Karzai and his Cabinet were ”bending towards accepting a run-off”.

”He can’t take on the international community and expect continued support. It’s just not going to happen,” the official added.

An independent US observation mission said the ECC report meant that 1,3-million votes would be thrown out, including nearly a million for Karzai, which would slash his vote to 48% from about 55% previously.

The report would raise Abdullah’s share of the vote to 31,5% and remove about 200 000 of his votes due to fraud, Democracy International said.

It was now down to the IEC to decide whether to certify the report. Abdullah says the nominally independent panel is in fact stacked with Karzai loyalists. — AFP