Afghanistan election: Karzai rival suggests terms for fair election runoff

In an interview, Abdullah Abdullah, the underdog presidential candidate, talks about preventing 'ghost polling' and sidesteps question about a possible concession ahead of the Nov. 7 Afghanistan election runoff.

Altaf Qadri/AP
An Afghan sits at a market in Kabul Friday, under a giant portrait of Abdullah Abdullah, the former Afghan foreign minister who ran against President Hamid Karzai.

The chief opposition candidate in Afghanistan's presidential campaign says that in the next one to three days, he will put forth some conditions for the conduct of the Nov. 7 runoff election.

Abdullah Abdullah says these will include: making changes to the Independent Election Commission that runs the elections, preventing President Hamid Karzai from using the levers of government to campaign, and ensuring there are no "ghost polling stations" – voting centers in areas so insecure that they exist only on paper.

He refused to say what he would do if these conditions are not met. At this point, the obvious card he has left to play is to withdraw from the race.

In some ways, such an exit could be a welcome outcome for all sides. Dr. Abdullah would avoid losing a head-to-head contest where he is the decided underdog. Mr. Karzai retains the presidency. And the international community avoids losing money, soldiers, and – with the policy debate paralyzed by election uncertainty – time.

Yet a withdrawal by Abdullah, depending on how he handled it, also runs risks of stigmatizing Karzai's reelection and disengaging Abdullah's voters from the political process.

Will he concede somehow? In an interview Friday night with the Monitor, the former foreign minister seemed to retreat to being the sober diplomat, after taking on more of a swagger over the past three months.

"To put the people through the same process, without assurances for transparency and security and fairness of the process, in itself is a difficult choice," says Abdullah.

Considering the costs of a runoff in blood, money, and time, would he consider conceding early for the good of the nation?

"What you are talking about are all real concerns. It's not that I am ignoring all these things. But at the same time, you have to put it into context, you have to look toward the future, and you have to leave the right foundation for the future of this country, by taking risks," he says.

He says foreign officials are not putting pressure on him to concede. He also talked down notions of conceding if Karzai offered him certain guarantees.

"My experience of the situation in the past eight years, within the government and outside the government, is that none of those assurances has lasted. The life span has been very short," says Abdullah.

Finally, asked if he's committed absolutely to seeing the runoff go forward, he gave a curiously limited response: "I'm committed to getting the process right; that's as far as I can say."

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