Karzai declared winner of Afghan elections, runoff polls cancelled

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission stated today that it cancelled the presidential runoff, originally scheduled for November 7, and officially declared president Hamid Karzai the winner. This announcement comes a day after President Hamid Karzai's main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the race.

President Hamid Karzai
Image: Paul Morse.
Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main challenger, who withdrew from the ballot on Sunday
Image: U.S. DoD photo by R. D. Ward.

"We declare that Mr. Hamid Karzai, [who] got the majority of votes in the first round and [who] is the only candidate for the second round of elections of Afghanistan in 2009, we declare [is] the elected president of Afghanistan." said Azizullah Lodin, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) president.

The IEC had come under international pressure to end the uncertainty and quickly declare Karzai the winner.

Lodin also said officials decided to cancel the runoff in order to save Afghans the expense and security risk of another election. Diplomats said that they had found enough ambiguity in the Afghan constitution to determine the runoff as unnecessary. This contradicts earlier reports, which said that cancelling the runoff would have been against the constitution.

"In order to avoid wasting fund and possible untoward incidents, the IEC in line with the constitution has decided to announce Hamid Karzai as the winner of the race and president of the country," he noted at a press conference.

This is to be Karzai's second term as president. Each term lasts five years, and according to the country's constitution, he is not eligible to run again.

Senior diplomats said they did not want a runoff election to be hosted, saying it would risk the lives of troops and civilians, as the Taliban had promised to disrupt any further polls.

In an interview with the Chinese Xinhua news agency, however, a spokesman for Abdullah said that the IEC's decision would not help solve the problem. He said that Karzai would only be seen as legitimate with the people who had voted for him in the first polls, and wouldn't be seen as a legitimate ruler to the "52%" who didn't. "Announcing Karzai as winner of the runoff would not solve the problem and instead would complicate it," Fazil Sangcharaki said.

Abdullah withdrew from the polls on Saturday, after his requests for several IEC ministers to be suspended and other changes to the commission were rejected by Karzai. The latter said he was unable legally to fulfill the other's requests.

Abdullah said that he could not accept a runoff overseen by the same people who were in charge of the August 20 poll. "[I won't participate] because of the action taken by this government and the action taken by the IEC," he told supporters.

In that round of voting, international officials uncovered large amounts of fraudulent votes, mainly those for Karzai. As a result, his victory fell below 50%, the minimum needed to avoid going to a runoff election.

International reaction

The secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who is in the capital of Kabul, congratulated Karzai on winning the elections. "Afghanistan now faces significant challenges and the new president must move swiftly to form a government that is able to command the support of both the Afghan people and the international community," he said.

Ban added that the international community remains committed to Afghanistan. "We will not be deterred, we cannot be deterred, and we must not be deterred, and the work of the United Nations will continue," he said.

The United Kingdom and the United States both welcomed the election commission's move. A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that he had telephoned Karzai and congratulated him. "They discussed the importance of the president moving quickly to set out a unifying programme for the future of Afghanistan," he said.

Cquote1.svg The United States welcomes the decision by the Independent Election Commission to conclude Afghanistan's electoral process by forgoing a second round of balloting. Cquote2.svg

—US Embassy

"Afghanistan now needs new and urgent measures for tackling corruption, strengthening local government and reaching out to all parts of Afghan society, and to give the Afghan people a real stake in their future," Brown said to the UK parliament. "President Karzai agreed with me Afghanistan now needs to strengthen its army and police numbers so over time we can reduce our troops." He also encouraged Karzai to continue work on a "unity programme for the future of Afghanistan".

Hamid Karzai at a speech in February 2009

The US embassy to Afghanistan noted that it accepted the IEC's move. "The United States welcomes the decision by the Independent Election Commission to conclude Afghanistan's electoral process by forgoing a second round of balloting," it stated.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that her government "will support the next president and the people of Afghanistan, who seek and deserve a better future." She described Abdullah's campaign as being "dignified and constructive".

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that "Karzai has been declared the winner of the Afghan election [...] so obviously he's the legitimate leader of the country." He added that the committee's move would not impact the US's decision on troop levels in Afghanistan, but would be made in coming weeks, as planned.

"This decision was not dependent upon when a leader was determined. We've never said that. Now begin the hard conversations."

US president Barack Obama congratulated Karzai on his victory in a telephone call. "Although the process was messy, I am pleased to say that the final outcome was determined in accordance with Afghan law," said he.

However, Obama added that Karzai should be "much more serious" about fighting corruption. "I emphasised that this has to be a point in time in which we write a new chapter based on improved governance, a much more serious effort to eradicate corruption [and] joint efforts to accelerate the training of Afghan security forces," Obama remarked.

"He [Karzai] assured me that he understood the importance of this moment. But as I indicated to him, the proof is not going to be in words. It is going to be in deeds," he said.

Concerns over legitimacy

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Political observer Wahid Mujda, however, said that he was skeptical about whether Karzai would be able to govern well in his next five years in office. "The legitimacy of Karzai's government in the provinces where he obtained fewer votes would be questioned and he would have a weak administration," Mujda said, as quoted by Xinhua. "The next administration of Karzai will not get people support unless it overcomes the menace of corruption, provide job opportunities and alleviate poverty in rural areas."

Kabul-based political analyst Haroun Mir said that Karzai would have to reach out to Abdullah supporters in order to be seen as legitimate in their eyes.

"Karzai won't be able to govern the country alone. He will have to reach out to Abdullah because those who voted for [Abdullah] in the north and east will refuse to recognise the legitimacy of a Karzai government," he said to The Australian.

"There's a resignation that Karzai is the player we are going to have to deal with, but he is being told in no uncertain terms, that he is a wounded animal,” a senior Western official remarked to Times Online. “In the eyes of the Afghan people and in the eyes of the international community he has to rebuild his credibility."

Power-sharing possibilities

Both Abdullah and Karzai had earlier rejected suggestions to implement a coalition government between the two. However, Karzai, after his reelection, has come under increasing international pressure to bring back Abdullah, who used to be Afghanistan's Foreign Minister, into the government in some way to help provide national unity.

Diplomats said that the international community accepted Karzai as the president, but wanted to make sure that the government was inclusive enough to tackle the Taliban.

UK prime minister Brown and US Secretary of State Clinton had both suggested to Karzai on Sunday that he consider an "inclusive" government.


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