Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Karzai Agrees to Runoff in Afghanistan

Via NYTimes -

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,” he said according to the English translation of his remarks, adding that he was grateful to the international community for its help.

Mr. Karzai called for continued international assistance in securing the country for the next round of voting. He did not express regret about the widespread fraud that a joint Afghan-international audit committee ruled Monday had occurred among the ballots marked in his name.

Instead, Mr. Karzai said that he felt the voters in the south of Afghanistan, his stronghold and apparent source of the bulk of his fraudulent votes, had been “disrespected,” but did not explain further, and added this was not an issue for the present time.

“A moment of great uncertainty has been transformed into a moment of great opportunity,” Mr. Kerry said, praising Mr. Karzai’s decision to cooperate with the ruling of the audit committee, as mandated under Afghani election laws.

In Washington, President Obama welcomed Mr. Karzai’s decision, calling it “an important step forward.”

“While this election could have remained unresolved to the detriment of the country, President Karzai’s constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan’s new democracy,” he said in a statement. “The Afghan Constitution and laws are strengthened by President Karzai’s decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people.”

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