August 15, 2009 in Nation/World

Karzai may face runoff, poll shows

Los Angeles Times
Farzana Wahidy photo

(Full-size photo)

KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai has a wide lead over his opponents in next week’s election, but may not be able to muster enough support to avoid a runoff, a survey suggested Friday.

The new poll, conducted by the International Republican Institute, is the second in a week to give a lead of nearly 20 percentage points over his major opponent, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. But the president would need more than 50 percent of the vote to win outright in next Thursday’s balloting, and both surveys point to the likelihood of his falling short of that.

The apparent tightening of the race comes amid growing fears that the vote will be marred by fraud and violence. Taliban militants have threatened to disrupt the election, and intimidation of candidates and voters has intensified in parts of the country where the insurgents have a strong presence.

The IRI poll, which was conducted from July 16-26, showed Karzai’s voter-approval rating rising from 31 percent in May to 44 percent. But Abdullah had an even sharper increase, with his support growing from 7 percent in May to 26 percent, according to the survey.

The poll suggested, too, that other rivals were gaining strength, potentially lessening Karzai’s chances of winning a majority. Ramazan Bashardost, a populist lawmaker who uses a tent outside parliament as his campaign headquarters, had the backing of 10 percent, up from 3 percent in the previous IRI survey. Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, increased his support from 3 percent to 6 percent.

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