Karzai about face could salvage Afghanistan election
President Hamid Karzai backed away from threats to reject an election runoff Monday in a move diplomats say breathes life into efforts to find a legitimate leader for Afghanistan.
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Analysts see these developments as a step toward restoring some credibility to an election marred by widespread fraud, low-turnout, and Afghan suspicions of foreign meddling.
On Monday, a commission tasked with sorting out fraud complaints publicly issued its rulings, almost two months after the original vote. Once applied, President Karzai is expected to wind up with 48 percent of the vote – just shy of the threshold needed to win after a first round.
"We are waiting for a final certified result," says Waheed Omer, spokesman for Mr. Karzai's campaign late Monday. "Whatever it comes out in a certified, final result, that will be acceptable to us."
The caveat is that the only body capable of making that final certification – the Independent Election Commission (IEC) – is run by Karzai appointees and had hired some election workers who went on to commit fraud on Karzai's behalf.
However, the IEC is bound under Afghan law to implement the fraud rulings as directed. The most it's expected to do for Karzai is delay certifying the results for a few days. Analysts express hope that then the process will move on toward a more legitimate resolution.
"If you can get Karzai to acknowledge 'I didn't win the first round, because I didn't get 50 percent plus one vote,' I think that's a step in the right direction toward giving the process some legitimacy that's already proved to be somewhat of a fiasco," says John Dempsey, a legal expert at the Kabul office of the US Institute of Peace, nonpartisan organization funded by the US Congress.
Why Karzai did an about face
Over the weekend, the Karzai camp threatened to reject the entire election if the internationally-back electoral commission ruled that he did not, in fact, win the election outright.
Mr. Omer argued that so many votes would have to be tossed out to trigger a runoff that the election would lose its credibility. In the end, nearly a third of Karzai's votes were nullified.
"If 25 or 26 percent of the votes were fraudulent then this election has no legitimacy," Mr. Omer told the Monitor. "We think the process will not result in that unless there is a political decision, in which case obviously we will react to it politically."
The talk now of accepting a certified result represents a 180-degree turn. That could be due, in part, to a parade of high-level foreign officials that has put pressure on Karzai to accept the ruling.
Further, some of Karzai's high-level supporters are arguing that a run-off is winnable so long as his voters aren't soured away from going to the polls again.