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World – Karzai May Open Path to Disputed Afghan Vote Solution

James Rupert and Janine Zacharia

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai will announce his intentions today about a runoff vote in the disputed presidential election in his country, a step that may clear the way for determining a victor, according to the U.S.

“I am very hopeful that we will see a resolution in line with the constitutional order in the next several days, but I don’t want to preempt in any way President Karzai’s statement, which will sort of set the stage for how we go forward,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday in Washington.

Clinton, who has spoken with Karzai and the main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, said she is encouraged by progress in resolving the impasse. Accusations of widespread vote fraud have delayed a final result in the Aug. 20 election and complicated U.S. efforts to reshape war strategy in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan appears headed to a second round of voting after a United Nations-backed electoral commission said it invalidated an unspecified number of ballots in the election.

The Electoral Complaints Commission ordered the agency counting the vote, the Independent Election Commission, to adjust its official tally, the ECC said yesterday on its Web site. While the ECC didn’t say how many votes it struck, it published fraud statistics that show Karzai will fall short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff, said a Washington-based monitoring group, Democracy International.

Fair Solution Sought

Afghans must work out their election process in a way that is seen as fair, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said yesterday.

“The onus is clearly on this to be legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people,” Gibbs said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters en route to Tokyo that resolving the presidential contest won’t ensure the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

“My view is that, whatever emerges in Kabul is going to be an evolutionary process,” Gates told reporters traveling on his plane en route to Tokyo. “I believe the president will have to make his decision in the context of that evolutionary process.”

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Oct. 18 that political negotiations between the candidates might be a way to resolve the election dispute. Eight weeks of uncertainty has delayed President Barack Obama’s review of how the U.S. should fight the growing Taliban insurgency.

Won’t Be Rushed

Obama “will not be rushed to making a decision” on increasing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan without assessing whether a “legitimate and credible government” is in place there, Emanuel told CNN.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry was in Kabul yesterday trying to resolve the election impasse.

Kerry is “involved in discussions with President Karzai, looking to find a way forward that would legitimize the election and empower effective government,” Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Democrat, said. His visit was coordinated with Clinton, special envoy Richard Holbrooke and other officials, Jones said.

Kerry met with Pakistani officials in Islamabad earlier yesterday after meeting several times in Kabul with Karzai during the weekend, Jones said.

Karzai’s Tally Drops

Democracy International said the ECC’s statistical data will reduce Karzai’s vote tally to 48 percent, from 55 percent reported in the preliminary vote count.

Unidentified officials also said the ECC ruling reduced Karzai’s tally to below 50 percent, the British Broadcasting Corp. and New York Times reported. The Afghan president has said any fraud was too limited to impede his being declared the victor. His spokesmen didn’t answer telephone calls seeking comment yesterday.

In any runoff, Karzai would face Abdullah, who got 28 percent of the vote in the preliminary count.

Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, appealed to Afghans to respect the ECC’s ruling, Agence France-Presse reported. “If these results point toward the need for a second round, a second round must be held,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told reporters in Brussels.

The decision by the UN-backed panel must by law be implemented by the Independent Election Commission, which Karzai appointed.

As the Afghan winter approaches, early November would be the latest that a runoff could be held, though extreme cold would make a high turnout difficult, the Afghan ambassador to the U.S., Said Jawad, said at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington on Oct. 15.

‘Recipe For Disaster’

Jawad said a delay until spring would be “a recipe for disaster” because the government would be “in limbo.”

Clinton yesterday said she has been assured by the U.S. commander, General Stanley McChrystal, and other military officials that there will be adequate time to hold a runoff before winter sets in.

Karzai probably will try to organize a “national participation government,” Jawad said, without giving details. A coalition government would create problems such as the requirement to dole out appointments based on loyalty rather than merit, Jawad said.

Emanuel’s suggestion of a negotiated agreement among Afghan leaders might allow the next government to attain some of the political legitimacy the U.S. seeks.

Karzai has lost credibility with the Afghan public because of the vote fraud and corruption during his tenure, Kabul-based political analyst Haroun Mir said.

“The lack of a clear result and the evidence of fraud have worsened the problem of a vacuum” in political leadership “that is blocking every effort to improve governance and confront the Taliban,” Mir said in a telephone interview before the vote result was announced.

A European Union monitoring team said Sept. 16 that more than a third of Karzai’s votes may have been faked.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rupert in New Delhi at jrupert3@bloomberg.net.

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October 20, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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