(by Yaroslav Trofimov and Alan Cullison, The Wall Street Journal – WSJ.com) KABUL — Afghanistan’s election commission declared Hamid Karzai the winner of the country’s controversial election, acting one day after the runner-up withdrew from a runoff planned for Saturday, and ending a two-month political drama that threw the country into unprecedented turmoil.
The Independent Election Commission, appointed by Mr. Karzai, made the decision hours after United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon made an unscheduled trip to Kabul earlier Monday. Mr. Ban urged Mr. Karzai to abandon his insistence on going ahead with a runoff that the Taliban had pledged to disrupt by killing election workers and voters.
The commission’s chairman, Azizullah Ludin, said that the runoff was canceled “to prevent uncertainty that created a lot of security challenges for the country.” The runner up, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, Sunday pullout from the contest, saying he didn’t believe the election would be free or fair because Mr. Ludin’s commission is biased in favor of Mr. Karzai, which Mr. Ludin has denied.
The White House had pushed extremely hard to get Mr. Karzai to agree to a runoff, saying it was essential to re-establishing legitimacy to an electoral process wracked with allegations of fraud.
At the same time, U.S. military and intelligence officials have recently raised concerns that apathy and disillusionment among Afghanistan’s Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group and the one to which Mr. Karzai belongs, could severely depress turnout, robbing the runoff of the credibility it was supposed to deliver.
For Dr. Abdullah, bowing out with grace — and unbeaten — allows him to preserve his political capital for the parliamentary elections next year, setting him up as the leader of Afghanistan’s opposition. It also gains him credit with the international community, preoccupied with the security challenges of conducting another election amid a spreading Taliban insurgency.
A recent spate of violence, including the killing of United Nations workers in a Kabul guesthouse last week, raised the specter of high-profile Taliban attacks throughout the runoff campaign.
Dr. Abdullah’s withdrawal didn’t immediately end the controversy over how the election would proceed. Mr. Karzai initially said he wanted to press ahead with the vote, which would give him a clear majority. The U.S. and its Western allies, which maintain 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and the U.N., which played a key role in the elections, viewed a second round without Dr. Abdullah as a waste of money and possibly lives if it triggers new Taliban attacks, diplomats said.
The IEC initially certified that the president won 54.6% of the votes in the August first round. Last month, a U.N.-led watchdog disqualified nearly a third of the votes cast for Mr. Karzai as fraudulent, implicating many IEC officials in ballot-stuffing. That decision pushed Mr. Karzai’s total below 50% and triggered the runoff.
Dr. Abdullah had demanded Mr. Karzai fire senior IEC officials by Saturday. The president declined.
Talks between Mr. Karzai’s representatives and Dr. Abdullah’s team dragged into Saturday night. Dr. Abdullah, people familiar with the negotiations said, sought a power-sharing deal that would give him important ministries and governorships. Mr. Karzai, however, wanted to win the election first, allowing him to share power with Dr. Abdullah on his own terms.
In the hours before Dr. Abdullah’s pullout, Western diplomats pressed him to end his participation in the race in a dignified manner. They asked him to resist pressure from hard-line supporters to call for a boycott of the vote, and to leave open the possibility of eventually reconciling with Mr. Karzai. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was updated regularly on the negotiations.
On Sunday, Dr. Abdullah announced he would bow out. He spoke in a tent filled with about 1,000 supporters, a sign behind him proclaiming: “No government without an election can be stable or lawful.”
“The IEC is not independent,” Dr. Abdullah said, his eyes welling up. “Everyone knows it is biased in favor of the incumbent, and the incumbent is misusing government resources.” IEC officials have repeatedly denied they favor Mr. Karzai. Mr. Karzai has insisted that no fraud was perpetrated on his behalf.
Dr. Abdullah stopped short of urging a boycott. “I leave the choice to my followers and supporters, based on what they see as the best interest of the country,” Dr. Abdullah said, adding that he asked his backers to remain calm and avoid any violence.
He also said that “the door should be open” for possible cooperation with Mr. Karzai.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul endorsed Dr. Abdullah’s “emphasis on national unity,” and said that it awaits the next steps in the process. The chief U.N. official in the country, Kai Eide, praised Dr. Abdullah’s “statesmanlike and dignified” behavior.
Ahead of Dr. Abdullah’s decision, White House officials had sought to portray Mr. Karzai’s acquiescence to a runoff as a victory in itself, a sign that the Afghan president, long accused of tolerating corruption in his government, was willing to abide by Afghan laws.
Senior administration officials acknowledged that Mr. Karzai’s re-election in the runoff was almost assured, and said that the process of investigating fraudulent votes was a key turning point in bringing the rule of law to Afghan politics.
On Sunday, Obama administration officials said Dr. Abdullah’s decision would have little impact on President Barack Obama’s review of Afghan war strategy.
“It is now a matter for the Afghan authorities to decide on a way ahead that brings this electoral process to a conclusion in line with the Afghan constitution,” Mrs. Clinton said in a statement.
Senior administration officials have frequently cited the need for a reliable “partner” in Kabul as central to its review of Afghan strategy, and had been expected to wait to announce new plans until after the runoff. Dr. Abdullah’s exit could speed that up, though senior U.S. officials said White House deliberations are expected to continue through this week.
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at email@example.com and Alan Cullison at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Why was Hamid Karzai declared winner of Afghanistan’s presidential election without the planned runoff election taking place?
2. Why did presidential runner-up Abdullah Abdullah pull out of the runoff?
3. Why was a runoff election necessary? Be specific.
4. a) Define credibility.
b) What might have hurt the credibility of the runoff, had it taken place?
5. a) What is the IEC?
b) What accusation did Mr. Abdullah make against the IEC?
6. How did the White House portray the need for a runoff election in Afghanistan?
7. Why might this early solution to the contested presidential election help our soldiers in Afghanistan?
Watch a video of Mr. Abdullah’s speech at the Wall Street Journal website here.