Karzai, Afghan rival will vie again in election runoff


KABUL — Under intense international pressure, Afghan
President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday accepted a final election tally that voided
hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes for him and agreed to a runoff vote
Nov. 7 with the second-place finisher, former Foreign Minister Abdullah

“We believe the decision is legitimate, legal and
according to the Constitution of Afghanistan,” Karzai said at a news
conference at the Presidential Palace. “In 14 days’ time, we are waiting
to see our people … go cast their votes.”

President Barack Obama called and congratulated Karzai and
praised the decision to go ahead with a runoff.

“This is a reflection of a commitment to the rule of
law, an insistence that the Afghan people’s will should be done,” Obama
said at the White House. “And so I expressed the American people’s
appreciation for this step.”

He added that Karzai and the other candidates “have
shown they have the interests of the Afghan people at heart.”

Speaking at the end of an Oval Office meeting with Iraqi Prime
Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Obama didn’t comment on how the runoff would affect
his decision-making about a new U.S. strategy on Afghanistan.

Human rights advocates were less impressed.

“It is hard to see how a second round can be credible
unless women’s security and access to the polls is dramatically improved,”
said Rachel Reid, a researcher on Afghanistan for Human Rights Watch.
“Women voters were an afterthought in the first round; now they must be
prioritized in order to increase enfranchisement and decrease fraud.”

“Both Karzai and Abdullah should publicly call upon
their supporters not to repeat the fraud that was committed in the first
round,” she said.

Many Afghans say the country wasn’t able to hold the first
round successfully. Some who voted think they risked life and limb to
participate in a fraudulent election, and it isn’t clear how many will turn out
now as winter approaches and Taliban forces threaten a more intense campaign to
derail the balloting. Moreover, the international pressure on Karzai to agree
to a runoff could only deepen a widespread belief that the U.S. already has
chosen him.

Karzai repeatedly had questioned the extent of the fraud
attributed to his campaign, and in recent weeks he had accused Western
diplomats of trying to interfere in Afghan affairs. Until Tuesday, it was
unclear whether he would accept the results of the United Nations-sponsored
Electoral Complaints Commission’s fraud audit or reject them and pitch
Afghanistan into a constitutional crisis.


The pressure on Karzai also has strained relations between
the U.S. and him as Obama ponders a new strategy for Afghanistan that may
include sending tens of thousands more American troops to the country and
pressing the new Afghan government to crack down on corruption and improve
governance. That also could catch Karzai between his American patrons and the
warlords and tribal leaders he enlisted to help win the first round.

Karzai seemed Tuesday to embrace the idea of another
election contest, calling the occasion historic and saying that some 6 million
people voted in the August election and this time he hopes for 10 million to 15

He was joined at the news conference by Sen. John Kerry,
D-Mass., who’s the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.N. special
representative Kai Eide and other Western diplomats.

Kerry and Karzai acknowledged that conducting an election on
such short notice would involve huge logistical and security challenges.
Insurgents have said they plan to disrupt the voting as they did during the
first round Aug. 20.

“Everyone is committed to do the best we can to take
the lessons of the last election and apply them rapidly in the next few
days,” Kerry said.

In response to journalists’ questions, Kerry said he hadn’t
talked with Karzai or Abdullah about forming a coalition government and
dropping the second round of voting.

The earlier election involved one of the largest military
operations in Afghan history as Western and Afghan forces combined to protect
polling sites. Troops will be mobilized again to help in the election, which is
expected to divert them from missions in the war against the Taliban.

In a preliminary tally released in September, Karzai won
54.6 percent of the vote, which, if finalized, would have allowed him to avoid a

The final tally, released Tuesday by the Independent
Election Commission, voided fraudulent votes and gave Karzai 49.7 percent, just
shy of the more than 50 percent he needed to avoid a second election.

Even as Karzai accepted the results, he appeared skeptical
of the fraud findings. He said some voters’ ballots weren’t respected, and that
why that happened should be “deeply investigated” at a later date.