October 16, 2009 in Nation/World

Karzai may face runoff election

A new vote would factor in Obama’s war strategy
Karen Deyoung And Joshua Partlow Washington Post
Associated Press photo

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah attends a press conference on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

Race against time

The Afghan constitution mandates a runoff if no presidential candidate is awarded more than half of the ballots in the first round of voting. Current President Hamid Karzai and and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah were the top two vote-getters in the Aug. 20 balloting. But it has been unclear whether Karzai reached the 50 percent mark. The United States and its NATO allies agreed last month that if there was to be a runoff, it would have to be held by the first week in November.

WASHINGTON – An investigation of allegedly fraudulent ballots in Afghanistan’s troubled election has reduced President Hamid Karzai’s portion of the vote to about 47 percent, an outcome that will trigger a runoff between him and his closest competitor, according officials familiar with results.

The tally by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which one official called “stunning,” is due to be finalized today. Preliminary results by Afghanistan’s national electoral commission had given Karzai 54.6 percent of the Aug. 20 vote.

The findings have major implications for the Obama administration’s ongoing deliberations over a new Afghanistan war strategy, and could eventually help remove the cloud of illegitimacy hanging over its partner government there. But a new election could also make an already-difficult situation worse, particularly if fraud is once again alleged or if the vote has to be delayed much longer because of the onset of the Afghan winter.

Karzai’s ambassador in Washington, Said Tayeb Jawad, said Thursday that a second round of voting was “likely,” although Karzai himself has never said he would accept the results of the complaints panel, which must be certified by the election commission.

Jawad, who spoke at the U.S. Institute of Peace, said it would be “impossible” to hold a runoff within the two weeks of certification, as required by the Afghan constitution. But “to delay until spring is a recipe for disaster,” he said, adding that a new vote would have to be held within a month to avoid prolonging the uncertainty.

The United States and its NATO allies in Afghanistan agreed last month that if there was to be a runoff, it would have to be held by the first week in November to avoid a turnout that would almost certainly be low because of the harsh winter.

Ballots listing both Karzai and his closest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, printed in London in anticipation of a runoff, have already arrived at United Nations headquarters in Kabul, a U.S. official in Afghanistan said.

The “preliminary” results announced by the electoral commission last month gave Abdullah, a former foreign minister, 28 percent of the vote. The Afghan constitution mandates a runoff if no candidate is awarded more than half of the ballots.

For the Obama administration, much of the delay in determining a way forward in the faltering war has hinged on the uncertain outcome of the Afghan elections.

President Barack Obama has held five meetings with top advisers this month to consider McChrystal’s recommendation that tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops be deployed to Afghanistan next year.

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