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Afghan votes tossed

Karzai expected to agree to runoff

WASHINGTON – Obama administration officials said they expect President Hamid Karzai to announce today that he will accept a runoff in Afghanistan’s disputed election, following the invalidation of more than a million of his votes by the commission investigating fraud in the Aug. 20 race.

The findings by the U.N.-led International Complaints Commission, released Monday after two months of political turmoil, stripped Karzai of nearly a third of his votes, bringing him below the halfway point and triggering a constitutionally mandated second round of voting between him and the runner-up, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Senior administration officials, while palpably relieved at what they said had been an apparent breakthrough in tense negotiations with Karzai, remained reluctant to state unequivocally that he had agreed to a runoff. “There are any number of cliches you could choose from,” said one official who spoke on condition of anonymity, “but we’ll wait until the chickens are hatched.”

Even as the results of the fraud investigation began to leak last week, Karzai continued to insist he won legitimately, based on a preliminary tally announced in September by a government-allied electoral commission. Over the last several days, he has come under intense international pressure to agree to a runoff.

On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton seized the opportunity to publicly lock in reports of progress, telling reporters that “We’re looking to hear from President Karzai tomorrow, Kabul time.”

“I am very hopeful that we will see a resolution in line with the constitutional order,” she said. “But I don’t want to pre-empt in any way President Karzai’s statement, which will set the stage for how we go forward in the next stage of this,” Clinton said. She added that that she was “encouraged at the direction that the situation is moving.”

A U.N. spokeswoman said that Karzai had told Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that he will “fully respect” the constitutional process.

According to an analysis by Democracy International, an independent monitor of investigation data from the U.N.-backed complaints commission, Karzai’s share of the Aug. 20 vote dropped from 54.6 percent to about 48 percent. Abdullah was left with with 31.5 percent of the vote. The final tally must be certified by the official International Election Commission.