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.
(Page 2 of 2)
Many ordinary voters are mistakenly interpreting talk of a run-off as a nullification of the first vote – a re-vote essentially, says Khalid Pashtoon, a Karzai supporter and Member of Parliament from the troubled southern region of Kandahar. Rather than cast aspersions on a runoff, he recommends a strategy of educating Karzai's base about the importance of getting out and casting that second-round vote.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
All of which is good news to foreign diplomats worried that a Karzai refusal to accept would cripple efforts to salvage the electoral process and find a "legitimate" partner for the Western aid agencies and military forces.
Runoff or power-sharing deal?
Mr. Dempsey, however, doubts the process will go to a runoff.
He sees the likely next step as a political deal struck between Karzai and the man he would face in a runoff, Abdullah Abdullah. Such a deal would see Dr. Abdullah conceding in exchange for a share of power in the next government. No runoff would be necessary.
But if Karzai's acceptance of today's fraud ruling would mark a step toward accepting due process, a deal with Abdullah might be interpreted as an opposite move.
Afghan election law says that if nobody gets 50 percent plus one vote in the first round, a runoff must be held to determine a winner. If one of those two parties concedes, it's unclear if the election can be called without the runoff.
It would fall to the Supreme Court – appointed with no oversight by Karzai – to provide that interpretation.
"The Supreme Court is not strong enough to be able to get that much trust on [such a] decision that it was impartial," he says.
There are arguably worse outcomes in the search for a legitimate government at the end of this process.
An outright Karzai win would have unsettled the international community and many Afghan voters with the possibility his camp would have gotten away with massive fraud.
If no deal is reached, a runoff vote could be derailed by extremely low turnout, Taliban disruption, or failure to organize it before the snow starts falling.
A glimmer of hope
While there's no guarantee today's ruling will lead to a government with a clear mandate and legitimacy, analysts say it at least is bringing some clarity to the road ahead.
"This is at least not a worsening of the situation. The situation is clearer than it has been and it is potentially moving toward one of the better case scenarios," says Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
That said, she warns the controversy surrounding fraud and its handling isn't necessarily over, even if Karzai accepts an under-50 percent certification.
"Whether this step really enhances the legitimacy of the process, depends mainly on how it is perceived. If for instance Karzai accepts the outcome, but at the same time people around him are spreading mixed messages or conspiracy theories, then it will remain a muddled matter in the pubic perception," she says.