Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Karzai agrees to presidential poll run-off

October 21, 2009 - 1:06AM

AFGHANISTAN will go back to the polls for a presidential run-off next month.

President Hamid Karzai said yesterday his country would head to the polls on November 7 after a United Nations-backed investigation into the August 20 vote found widespread fraud.

''Now it is again the turn of the people of Afghanistan to choose one of the two candidates,'' Mr Karzai said at a news conference, referring to himself and his main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission found that more than a million ballots were suspect in the election, meaning that Mr Karzai fell short of the 50 per cent threshold needed to avoid a run-off.

Mr Karzai won 49.67 per cent of the vote, Agence France-Presse reported, citing an election official.

Accusations of fraud had delayed the final result in the election, complicating efforts by the United States to reshape war strategy in Afghanistan.

Standing next to Mr Karzai, US Senator John Kerry welcomed the announcement as a great opportunity. Senator Kerry was sent to Kabul to help resolve the election impasse.

Mr Karzai hailed the run-off as 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,'' he said.

''I call upon our nation to change this into an opportunity to strengthen our resolve and determination, to move our country forward and to participate in the new round of elections.''

Earlier, the Obama Administration had hoped Mr Karzai would accept the need for a run-off, despite his spokesman, Waheed Omar, suggesting he would be bound only by the country's Independent Election Commission, whose officials were appointed by his Government.

''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,'' Mr Omar said.

''It is premature to say that the ECC has announced its findings and the winner is known. It is based on media reports that our friends say the election is gone to a run-off,'' he said.

The US, fearing that Mr Karzai would reject the ECC's findings, sent Senator Kerry, chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, to Kabul on Monday, where he met Mr Karzai in the presidential palace.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: ''I am very hopeful that we will see a resolution in line with the constitutional order in the next several days, but I don't want to pre-empt in any way President Karzai's statement, which will sort of set the stage for how we go forward in the next stage of this.''

Early election results showed Mr Karzai had won the election outright with 54 per cent of the vote, but there were immediately allegations of fraud.

Doubt over the result has created a headache for the US, which has been trying to finalise its policy on the next stage of the Afghan war. The US and coalition forces' commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has asked for another 40,000 soldiers to bolster his counter-insurgency strategy, but most analysts believe that without a stable government and significant progress on the civilian reconstruction, the likelihood of success in Afghanistan is limited.

At the weekend, several Obama Administration aides stressed that the US decision on increasing force numbers depended on having a legitimate Afghan government that would eventually take control.


This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/world/karzai-agrees-to-presidential-poll-runoff-20091020-h6wc.html

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