Afghan election runoff: As officials scramble, some voters dig in heels

Some Afghans say they are tired of the election's toll on lives and business. A runoff between President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah is slated for Nov. 7.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

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    A defaced and torn election poster of Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seen in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday.
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No one on Chicken Street wants any more voting.

Instead of the usual brisk trade in carpets, silks, and gemstones, the popular strip of shops in Kabul is largely deserted. Afghans say their country's political uncertainty is hurting business. For some shopkeepers sales have dropped by half.

Their disenchantment comes even as United Nations and Afghan election officials make frantic preparations to hold another round of voting between President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah, if they fail to reach a deal before Nov. 7, when the runoff is scheduled.

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Among the daunting tasks: Replacing 200 of 380 district election chiefs implicated in fraud during the first round of voting with more reliable staff.

The scramble comes after Mr. Karzai, under pressure from Western officials, agreed Tuesday to accept the findings of a vote-rigging inquiry that triggered the runoff between the two leading candidates.

But although both men claim that more voters will turn out than last time – Dr. Abdullah said Wednesday that voters would "embrace" the prospect – many Afghans have little appetite for more polling.

Turnout estimates were as low as 5 percent for some areas particularly hard-hit by the insurgency during the first round, held Aug. 20.

Haji Abdul Hakim, a carpet dealer on Chicken Street, says he is angry about the failure of the Afghan government and the international community to bring the process to a swift end.

"Business is very slow," he says. "Everyone is making a loss. Democracy? The original democracy is good but the United Nations doesn't know about it. Everybody is angry. There are no jobs and winter is coming. Difficult, difficult, difficult."

His view is characteristic of most interviewees – others derided the runoff for creating "the same problems all over again."

Still, not everyone is unhappy with Tuesday's announcement of a runoff election. In Shorobak, in southern Kandahar Province – where fraud was widespread first time around – tribal elder Haji Mohammad Brits says his community wants a runoff vote.

"We will go for a second round if it's necessary," he says. "The delay that happened in the result – it's good because the people can see who did the fraud and they will know a lot of things about the fraud, the problems that happened."

However, there are serious questions about how to organize another ballot in less than three weeks, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledging Tuesday it would be a "huge challenge."

"We have learned very valuable but painful lessons from the first election. We must not repeat what they have done last time," he said.

Ballot papers, indelible ink, and other election materials supplied by the UN are already in Kabul, ready to be flown to the provinces Thursday, according to UN spokesman Aleem Siddique.

But a major, and largely unanswered, question is how to avoid a repeat of the vote rigging that tarred the initial poll.

Independent Election Commission spokesman Mohammad Noor Mohammad admits this will be a "challenge" for election officials. "It will be something we respond to in coming days," he says.

Of more immediate concern to potential voters is security. Durrani Shah, from Gereshk district in Helmand province in the south, says: "We did hard work and we lost lots of life and still no result of the election. We can't go for the second time. We would be very happy to have the next government and to solve our problems."

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What other challenges stand in the way of a runoff? Click here to read more.

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