Afghanistan runoff: Abdullah wants election chief sacked

Christian Science Monitor

Abdullah Abdullah, the top challenger to President Karzai in Afghanistan’s election, said Monday he would otherwise not participate in the Nov. 7 runoff. The ultimatum could be a cover to withdraw from the race.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Abdullah Abdullah, the main opposition candidate in Afghanistan, demanded Monday the dismissal of the country’s top election officer as a condition for taking part in a runoff vote scheduled for Nov. 7.

Many analysts see his ultimatum – which also called for the suspension of several government ministers – as highly impractical so close to the ballot. Instead, it could serve as cover for an honorable withdrawal from the race.

Although election officials have been rushing to organize a second round of voting after frontrunnerPresident Hamid Karzai reluctantly agreed to one last week, the possibility of a powersharing deal between the two candidates has persisted as a more pragmatic solution.

Flanked by running mates, campaign aides, and turbaned elders, Dr. Abdullah said his conditions were “the most modest demands we could come up with. The people of Afghanistan … were disappointed. They don’t want to go through the same thing in a few days’ time. These are the minimum conditions” for participation in the second round.

On the subject of the Independent Election Commission’s perceived bias towards incumbent President Hamid Karzai, Abdullah referred to a quote by IEC chairman Azizullah Ludin from The New York Times: “We will have another election, and we’ll have the same result. Karzai is going to win.” Abdullah also accused the IEC of violating Afghan law by “changing results announced by the [UN-backed] Electoral Complaints Commission.”

At the very least, analysts say, Abdullah’s demands will intensify the pressure on President Karzai as the two men bargain over the make-up of the next government. “I think they are bargaining now for post-election posts,” says Omar Sharifi, a political analyst in Kabul. “This is Afghan politics. There are always behind-the-scenes talks.”

Abdullah set Oct. 31 as the deadline for his demands to be met. He refused to say whether he would boycott the runoff if they were not.

The Taliban has threatened to kill anyone taking part in the vote.

Campaigning since Karzai’s reluctant endorsement of a second round last week has been muted, with both candidates fighting their corners on US airwaves more than rallying supporters at home. Karzai questioned the reliability of the United States as a partner Sunday, as he fought off criticism of the first, fraud-ridden round of voting. Meanwhile, in an interview with CNN, Abdullah warned that US strategy in Afghanistan would fail without a credible government in Kabul as a partner.

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