Under heavy international pressure, President Hamid Karzai conceded Tuesday that he fell short of a first-round victory in the nation’s disputed presidential election, and agreed to hold a runoff election with his top challenger on Nov. 7.
Flanked at a news conference in Kabul by Senator John Kerry, the head of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Kai Eide, the top United Nations official in Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai said he would accept the findings of an international audit that stripped him of nearly one-third of his votes in the first round, leaving him below the 50 percent threshold that would have allowed him to avoid a runoff and declare victory over his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
“I call upon this country to take this as an opportunity to move this country forward and participate in this new round of elections,” Mr. Karzai said, according to the English translation of his remarks, adding that he was grateful to the international community for its help. [continued…]
For a couple of days last month at a cavernous warehouse in the bleak industrial zone of western Kabul, diplomats, UN officials and election monitors gathered to watch hundreds of ballot boxes being opened and turned out on to the floor.
The colleagues from Kabul’s western missions rolled their eyes at each other as they witnessed not a chaotic assortment of marked and folded voting forms tumble out, but entire blocks of ballot papers that had not even been torn off from their book stubs. Others contained surprisingly uniform numbers of ballots all signed in the same hand and with the same pen, and overwhelmingly in favour of a single candidate.
One box did not contain any ballot papers at all; just a results slip with the final vote score showing a massive win for Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president many believe was all too aware of attempts to steal the country’s second ever democratic attempt to choose a leader.
Everyone present could see a huge amount of cheating had taken place on 20 August, albeit rather ineptly. “Some of us joked with each other whether the Afghans, after all the billions that have gone in to trying to create a functioning government, also need to be taught how to rig an election properly,” said one of the officials present, deeply cynical after weeks of revelations about Afghanistan’s disastrous election.
It was a tawdry end to what had at times been an exciting, even uplifting, election campaign. [continued…]