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November 2, 2009

Karzai declared winner of Afghan elections, runoff polls cancelled

Karzai declared winner of Afghan elections, runoff polls cancelled

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Monday, November 2, 2009

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Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission stated today that it cancelled the presidential runoff, originally scheduled for November 7, and officially declared president Hamid Karzai the winner. This announcement comes a day after President Hamid Karzai’s main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the race.

President Hamid Karzai
Image: Paul Morse.

Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s main challenger, who withdrew from the ballot on Sunday
Image: U.S. DoD photo by R. D. Ward.

“We declare that Mr. Hamid Karzai, [who] got the majority of votes in the first round and [who] is the only candidate for the second round of elections of Afghanistan in 2009, we declare [is] the elected president of Afghanistan.” said Azizullah Lodin, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) president.

The IEC had come under international pressure to end the uncertainty and quickly declare Karzai the winner.

Lodin also said officials decided to cancel the runoff in order to save Afghans the expense and security risk of another election. Diplomats said that they had found enough ambiguity in the Afghan constitution to determine the runoff as unnecessary. This contradicts earlier reports, which said that cancelling the runoff would have been against the constitution.

“In order to avoid wasting fund and possible untoward incidents, the IEC in line with the constitution has decided to announce Hamid Karzai as the winner of the race and president of the country,” he noted at a press conference.

This is to be Karzai’s second term as president. Each term lasts five years, and according to the country’s constitution, he is not eligible to run again.

Senior diplomats said they did not want a runoff election to be hosted, saying it would risk the lives of troops and civilians, as the Taliban had promised to disrupt any further polls.

In an interview with the Chinese Xinhua news agency, however, a spokesman for Abdullah said that the IEC’s decision would not help solve the problem. He said that Karzai would only be seen as legitimate with the people who had voted for him in the first polls, and wouldn’t be seen as a legitimate ruler to the “52%” who didn’t. “Announcing Karzai as winner of the runoff would not solve the problem and instead would complicate it,” Fazil Sangcharaki said.

Abdullah withdrew from the polls on Saturday, after his requests for several IEC ministers to be suspended and other changes to the commission were rejected by Karzai. The latter said he was unable legally to fulfill the other’s requests.

Abdullah said that he could not accept a runoff overseen by the same people who were in charge of the August 20 poll. “[I won’t participate] because of the action taken by this government and the action taken by the IEC,” he told supporters.

In that round of voting, international officials uncovered large amounts of fraudulent votes, mainly those for Karzai. As a result, his victory fell below 50%, the minimum needed to avoid going to a runoff election.

International reaction

The secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who is in the capital of Kabul, congratulated Karzai on winning the elections. “Afghanistan now faces significant challenges and the new president must move swiftly to form a government that is able to command the support of both the Afghan people and the international community,” he said.

Ban added that the international community remains committed to Afghanistan. “We will not be deterred, we cannot be deterred, and we must not be deterred, and the work of the United Nations will continue,” he said.

The United Kingdom and the United States both welcomed the election commission’s move. A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that he had telephoned Karzai and congratulated him. “They discussed the importance of the president moving quickly to set out a unifying programme for the future of Afghanistan,” he said.

Cquote1.svg The United States welcomes the decision by the Independent Election Commission to conclude Afghanistan’s electoral process by forgoing a second round of balloting. Cquote2.svg

—US Embassy

“Afghanistan now needs new and urgent measures for tackling corruption, strengthening local government and reaching out to all parts of Afghan society, and to give the Afghan people a real stake in their future,” Brown said to the UK parliament. “President Karzai agreed with me Afghanistan now needs to strengthen its army and police numbers so over time we can reduce our troops.” He also encouraged Karzai to continue work on a “unity programme for the future of Afghanistan”.

Hamid Karzai at a speech in February 2009

The US embassy to Afghanistan noted that it accepted the IEC’s move. “The United States welcomes the decision by the Independent Election Commission to conclude Afghanistan’s electoral process by forgoing a second round of balloting,” it stated.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that her government “will support the next president and the people of Afghanistan, who seek and deserve a better future.” She described Abdullah’s campaign as being “dignified and constructive”.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that “Karzai has been declared the winner of the Afghan election […] so obviously he’s the legitimate leader of the country.” He added that the committee’s move would not impact the US’s decision on troop levels in Afghanistan, but would be made in coming weeks, as planned.

“This decision was not dependent upon when a leader was determined. We’ve never said that. Now begin the hard conversations.”

US president Barack Obama congratulated Karzai on his victory in a telephone call. “Although the process was messy, I am pleased to say that the final outcome was determined in accordance with Afghan law,” said he.

However, Obama added that Karzai should be “much more serious” about fighting corruption. “I emphasised that this has to be a point in time in which we write a new chapter based on improved governance, a much more serious effort to eradicate corruption [and] joint efforts to accelerate the training of Afghan security forces,” Obama remarked.

“He [Karzai] assured me that he understood the importance of this moment. But as I indicated to him, the proof is not going to be in words. It is going to be in deeds,” he said.

Concerns over legitimacy

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Political observer Wahid Mujda, however, said that he was skeptical about whether Karzai would be able to govern well in his next five years in office. “The legitimacy of Karzai’s government in the provinces where he obtained fewer votes would be questioned and he would have a weak administration,” Mujda said, as quoted by Xinhua. “The next administration of Karzai will not get people support unless it overcomes the menace of corruption, provide job opportunities and alleviate poverty in rural areas.”

Kabul-based political analyst Haroun Mir said that Karzai would have to reach out to Abdullah supporters in order to be seen as legitimate in their eyes.

“Karzai won’t be able to govern the country alone. He will have to reach out to Abdullah because those who voted for [Abdullah] in the north and east will refuse to recognise the legitimacy of a Karzai government,” he said to The Australian.

“There’s a resignation that Karzai is the player we are going to have to deal with, but he is being told in no uncertain terms, that he is a wounded animal,” a senior Western official remarked to Times Online. “In the eyes of the Afghan people and in the eyes of the international community he has to rebuild his credibility.”

Power-sharing possibilities

Both Abdullah and Karzai had earlier rejected suggestions to implement a coalition government between the two. However, Karzai, after his reelection, has come under increasing international pressure to bring back Abdullah, who used to be Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, into the government in some way to help provide national unity.

Diplomats said that the international community accepted Karzai as the president, but wanted to make sure that the government was inclusive enough to tackle the Taliban.

UK prime minister Brown and US Secretary of State Clinton had both suggested to Karzai on Sunday that he consider an “inclusive” government.



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November 1, 2009

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah withdraws from elections

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah withdraws from elections

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

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Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said today that he will not participate in this week’s runoff election against President Hamid Karzai, accusing the government of not meeting his demands for a fair vote.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah
Image: U.S. DoD photo by R. D. Ward.

President Hamid Karzai
Image: Paul Morse.

Abdullah said that his withdrawal is in protest of what he called the misconduct of the government and the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC).

Abdullah had given Karzai until Saturday to remove the country’s top election official Azizullah Ludin in an effort to avoid a repeat of the massive fraud that marred the August 20 presidential election. He also asked that four of the ministers who had campaigned for Karzai be suspended.

“I will not participate in the November 7 election [because a] transparent election is not possible,” Abdullah said.

At a meeting in a tent in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, the candidate addressed a crowd of supporters. “In order to look God in the eye at this historic moment, I have made a decision,” he told the meeting in a giant tent in Kabul. In protest against the illegal actions of the government and the electoral commission, I will not participate in the run-off. It hasn’t been easy for me to make this decision.”

Negotiations between the Karzai and Abdullah campaigns regarding Abdullah’s demands were held, but broke down early on Sunday, after Karzai completely rejected the deal. According to an unnamed diplomat, had Karzai agreed to the deal, Abdullah would have conceded, instead of withdrawing from the polls.

“In one hour, all my conditions could have been implemented. Unfortunately, until the last moment we were waiting, but we heard they rejected our appeals,” Abdullah said.

Waheed Omar, a spokesman for the Karzai campaign, defended Karzai’s refusal, saying that the president didn’t have the power to implement Abdullah’s demands. “What the UN called a shake-up of the election commission, that also to most part took place. But this specific demand was about removing the chairman of the election commission – constitutionally the President cannot remove them unless they are convicted by the court of law,” he said.

Following his announcement, Abdullah requested his supporters “not to take to the streets. Not to feel grief. I know it is difficult,” Abdullah said. “After all, this is not [a] democratic environment. But at the same time, it is for a good cause. It is for the future generations of this country.”

“The people have the right to have a fair election. But this election was a failure. It was not independent. It was not transparent.”

In an interview with the Al Jazeera news agency, Abdullah described his feelings. “It was the right decision, and I did it in the best interests of this country. As far as the process is concerned, hopefully there is a way forward. I will not enter into the constitutional implications of this decision. But I’ll be pursuing the agenda for change and reform in any capacity that I’ll be.”

Karzai campaign spokesman Omar said he believed the election is the right of the Afghan people. “The withdrawal was Dr. Abdullah’s personal choice. That should not affect the process as a whole,” Omar said. He described the withdrawal as “unfortunate”, but said he believed the elections should still continue. “We believe that the elections have to go on, the process has to complete itself, the people of Afghanistan have to be given the right to vote.”

This election’s first polls, which were held this August, were affected by large amounts of ballot-stuffing, and over a million votes, or about a quarter of all ballots cast, were discounted by the election commissions. As a result, Karzai’s vote count dropped to 49.67%, below the minimum of 50% needed to win the election without going into a runoff. Abdullah received 31% of the ballot.

Power-sharing possibilities

Abdullah said that he would still “leave the door open” for future talks with Karzai. He refused to indicate what he believed should happen next, and would not endorse Karzai’s presidential candidacy. He said that his decision to pull out was not done “in exchange for anything from anybody.”

Cquote1.svg Both sides are reasonable people. They have worked together in the past. I think some kind of compromise is possible. Cquote2.svg

—Shah Asifi, vice-presidential candidate for Abdullah

“For the next few days I will let Mr. Karzai work it out for himself. I will be in the country. I will not shut any doors, but I will stick to the principles of my campaign,” said Abdullah.

His vice-presidential candidate, Shah Asifi, indicated that a power-sharing agreement between the two candidates might be feasible. “We have two moderate people. Both sides are reasonable people. They have worked together in the past. I think some kind of compromise is possible.”

Baryalai Arsalai, who was one of the presidential contenders before dropping out in the first round of votes to back Abdullah, said that a power sharing agreement could help make the government seem more legitimate.

Hamid Karzai at a speech in February 2009

An unnamed European diplomat predicted that Abdullah would be encouraged to formally retract his statements, and for the Afghan Supreme Court to rule a second round of voting as unnecessary. “We don’t see there will be any interest in a second round now. It will be a waste of time and resources,” he said.

Other diplomats told the Daily Telegraph news agency that there was little desire to host a second ballot with a single candidate, saying it would risk the lives of soldiers and voters, as the Taliban had pledged to disrupt elections with violence.

International reaction

United Nations spokesman Aleem Siddique told the Voice of America (VOA) news agency that he believed Abdullah’s decision was a difficult one. He said it was up to Afghan authorities to determine how to proceed. “We need to wait to hear from Afghanistan’s legal institutions – the Independent Election Commission and the Supreme Court – to give their interpretation of the next steps ahead,” Siddique said.

He added, however, that it might be impractical to continue with the election, with one candidate. “It’s difficult to see how you can have a runoff with only one candidate,” he said.

Political analyst Haroun Mir said that the election’s credibility would largely depend on voter turnout. “Everything will depend on the voter turnout. If the turnout is high, […] Karzai will be declared winner and he’ll have legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghans and in the international community,” Mir told Al Jazeera. “But if the turnout is very low – below 25% – Karzai will be declared legally as president, but will not enjoy strong legitimacy.”

Afghan election officials said that according to the country’s constitution, the polls must be held. A spokesman for the election commission told VOA that Abdullah had missed the deadline to officially withdraw. However, there has been increasing international pressure for Afghanistan to come up with some legal measures to bring an end to the elections. The IEC said it would review the constitution and decide whether polls really should be held or not.

British prime minister Gordon Brown said that “Dr Abdullah has pulled out of the election in the interests of national unity.” He added that he told Karzai he believed it was important to establish an “inclusive administration” to fight corruption and create a popular local government, and to reach out to “all parts of Afghan society.”

“The issue for me is what is to happen to Afghanistan in the future, given that our soldiers have contributed so much to the development of Afghan society,” said the Prime Minister. “What is going to happen is we have got to have a visible sign that the new administration is tackling corruption.”

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The United States government said that it would recognise Abdullah’s withdrawal, and would support the next president. In a statement, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said that she “recognize[d] the decision by Dr Abdullah Abdullah not to participate in the second round of balloting in the Afghan presidential elections.

“It is now a matter for the Afghan authorities to decide on a way ahead that brings this electoral process to a conclusion in line with the Afghan constitution,” she said. “We will support the next president and the people of Afghanistan, who seek and deserve a better future.”

Clinton also encouraged Abdullah to continue his peace efforts in the country. “We hope that he will continue to stay engaged in the national dialogue and work on behalf of the security and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan,” she said.

Senior White House aides also said that the US government was not likely to affect president Barack Obama’s decision on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. Abdullah’s resignation came soon after the top US army commander in the country, Stanley McChrystal, requested an additional 40,000 troops to help fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The US, however, has been expected not to announce any new troop plans until after the runoff elections concluded.

John Boehner, the Republican House Minority leader, remarked that the withdrawal would “not hamper our decision with regard to Afghanistan.” However, he encouraged Obama to make a decision regarding the country’s Iraq military strategies soon.

“The longer this decision hangs, the more jeopardy and the more danger our troops on the ground there are in the middle of,” said Boehner. “I think everyone expected that President Karzai was going to be re-elected. So Dr Abdullah’s exit from this race, I think, really says more about the fact that he knew he wasn’t going to win.”

Senior White House advisor David Axelrod spoke about Abdullah’s move in the televised “Face the Nation” programme on Sunday. “Abdullah Abdullah made a political decision to withdraw. That doesn’t markedly change the situation,” he said.

According to polls, Abdullah would have likely lost a runoff election anyway, Axelrod said. “So we are going to deal with the government that is there. And obviously there are issues we need to discuss, such as reducing the high level of corruption. These are issues we’ll take up with President Karzai.”



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October 31, 2009

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah may boycott runoff election

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah may boycott runoff election

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

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Sources close to Afghanistan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said that he may pull out of next week’s runoff election against President Hamid Karzai, due to concerns about the credibility of the poll.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah
Image: U.S. DoD photo by R. D. Ward..

President Hamid Karzai
Image: Paul Morse.

Abdullah had given Karzai until Saturday to remove the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) chief, Azizullah Lodin.

It was one of several conditions that Abdullah had voiced this week to avoid a repeat of the massive fraud that marred the August 20 presidential election. As of Saturday, Karzai had not agreed to his opponent’s requests.

Abdullah is expected to hold a press conference on Sunday about the planned vote, scheduled for November 7. News reports cited sources close to the former foreign minister as saying that Abdullah may pull out of the runoff.

A spokesman for the Afghan election commission, Noor Mohammad Noor, however, said that legally, Abdullah cannot officially withdraw a week away from the vote. “Now is too late, according to IEC procedure of the election law, the withdraw time is already done, so they must continue,” he said to the Voice of America news agency.

Speaking from Kabul, the director of Afghanistan’s Center for Research and Policy Studies, Haroun Mir, said a boycott would have a major impact on the public’s perception of the country’s government. “If Dr. Abdullah boycotts and we have a very low voter turnout, then President Karzai will be declared winner, but he will not be considered a legitimate president,” said Mir.

Mir said that he believes Karzai would have a hard time asserting his authority in Afghanistan’s northern areas, which are the base for Abdullah’s support.

Afghan election officials say they plan to increase the number of voting stations for the runoff, despite concerns that it could lead to more fraud than in the first vote.

The Taliban also promised to intensify its attacks leading up to the November 7 election. Several days ago, insurgents launched an attack on a Kabul guest house that killed five United Nations staff members.



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October 26, 2009

Afghanistan prepares for presidential runoff election

Afghanistan prepares for presidential runoff election

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Monday, October 26, 2009

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Afghanistan is getting ready for a second-round presidential election between President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. The second round comes after the election commission nullified nearly one million votes cast in August’s presidential polls. The investigation brought Mr. Karzai’s vote count below 50 percent, enough to trigger a runoff. The United Nations has begun delivering ballots across Afghanistan to prepare for the November 7 runoff.

President Hamid Karzai
Image: Harald Dettenborn.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said that the runoff reflects the will of the Afghan people and he may withhold his decision on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan until after the new polls. The remarks followed his meeting with U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, who has just returned from the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Cquote1.svg …you want to know what kind of government is coming out of it. Cquote2.svg

—Barack Obama

“I think you really want to know that this has worked and you want to know what kind of government is coming out of it,” Obama said.

An analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, Haseeb Humayoon, believes Mr. Karzai may win again. “If we look at the numbers and how they have turned out, President Karzai has a much stronger base than Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and that may play a role in the second round as well,” he explained.

But questions remain about the deals Mr. Karzai struck with local powers of remote Afghan regions to win their support.

“I think one has to look at that with a lot of caution, because while electorally those deals might have returns, in terms of government efficiency down the line they are questionable,” Humayoon added.

However Rick Nelson at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. says it is wrong to look at the Afghan political landscape through a Western lens.

Cquote1.svg President Karzai has been very aggressive in trying to cut deals and trying to build partnerships. Cquote2.svg

—Rick Nelson, the Center for Strategic and International Studies

“President Karzai has been very aggressive in trying to cut deals and trying to build partnerships,” he noted. “But given the circumstances in which he is trying to operate, if he can cut deals with rival factions and it results in a stable Afghanistan, that is something we may want to support.”

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah
Image: U.S. DoD photo by R. D. Ward..

Another scenario presented by some experts is one in which the August election runner up, Mr. Abdullah, wins this time around. Nelson says he may not belong to the Pashtun majority tribe, but he is not that different politically than Mr. Karzai.

“He is not a full Pashtun, he is a little bit Tajik as well, and that may change the dynamics with the United States,” Mr. Nelson added. “But it probably is not going to change the overall U.S. policy too much.”

There is also the chance that the two contenders will come up with some sort of an agreement to share power and avoid the runoff. While some analysts say this is unlikely, Nelson is optimistic.

“If there is a unity government in advance, it certainly puts the whole election legitimacy question aside, and will enable the United States and NATO to move forward in their partnership with Afghanistan,” he said.

In Washington, U.S. officials have said a power-sharing arrangement between the two leaders would be totally up to the Afghans.



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September 13, 2009

Karzai retains lead in Afghan presidential elections

Karzai retains lead in Afghan presidential elections

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

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Hamid Karzai in 2006
Image: Paul Morse, Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Abdullah Abdullah in 2004
Image: R. D. Ward, U.S. DoD.

Hamid Karzai, the incumbent candidate in Afghanistan’s presidential elections, has continued to maintain a lead, having 54.3% of the ballot, latest results indicate.

He is well ahead of the second-place candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, who has 28.1% of the vote.

The United Nation mission in Afghanistan was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that there are “no winners” yet.

The voting count has been delayed by accusations of voting fraud and ballot stuffing. The Election Complaints Commission (ECC) had ordered votes to be recounted at polling stations where one of the candidates received a very high percentage of votes, or where voter turnout was over 600.

Approximately 200,000 votes have been discounted from 447 polling stations so far by the commission.

If neither Karzai or Abdullah receive at least fifty percent of the final ballot, a run-off election is to be held.



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