KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai’s challenger plans to call for a boycott of next weekend’s runoff election in an attempt to force the vote’s postponement until spring, his campaign manager said – a move that would dim U.S. hopes for a stable government for months.
Karzai rejected Abdullah Abdullah’s conditions for next Saturday’s vote, including removing top election officials whom the challenger accused of cheating in the first-round balloting in August.
Abdullah has called a press conference for this morning to announce his final decision after Afghans and Westerners close to him said he would withdraw. His campaign manager Satar Murad said the candidate might still change his mind, but that “as of now” he planned to call for a boycott.
A clouded electoral picture would further complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to decide whether to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan to battle the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies.
The White House has been waiting for a new government in Kabul to announce a decision, but the war has intensified in the meantime. October was the deadliest month of the war for U.S. forces, with at least 57 American deaths.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, traveling in the Middle East, downplayed the prospect of an Abdullah withdrawal, saying it would not undermine the legitimacy of the election.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election,” Clinton told reporters in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. “It’s a personal choice which may or may not be made.”
A spokesman for the Afghan election commission said that it is too late for Abdullah to officially withdraw and that a boycott will not prevent the runoff from going forward.
“The election will be held and all procedures will go as normal,” Noor Mohammad Noor said.