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Afghan president agrees to runoff election in face of fraud allegations

October 29th, 2009

Afghanistan made its first step towards re-establishing credibility to its government after President Hamid Karzai conceded the need for a runoff in the recently disputed presidential election.

According to CNN, Karzai won the Aug. 20 election outright.  However, a subsequent recount of the votes by a U.N. panel of election monitors voided nearly one-third of his votes because of “clear and convincing evidence of fraud.”

Dwight Hahn, a professor of political science at John Carroll University, said, “I don’t think the Obama administration could send thousands of troops to help out a country who’s leader just won a fraudulent election. That’s why a runoff is needed.”

This concession came amidst accusations of widespread fraud and heavy pressure from both American and European officials.

According to The New York Times, other pressures include veiled threats by certain American officials that Karzai’s actions could dictate troop levels in the country.

President Barack Obama, though, told U.S. Navy personnel in speech in Jacksonville, Fla., that he will not rush his decision to send them to Afghanistan.

“Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals as well as the equipment and support you need to get the job done,” he said.

Some U.S. officials were suggesting that they should push President Karzai and his main competitor, Abdullah Abdullah, to come together to form a coalition government and avoid a runoff election altogether.

However, after a round of appearances on Sunday morning talk shows in the United States, both Karzai and Abdullah made it clear that they want nothing to do with any sort of coalition government.

The coalition deal that would have been most likely to occur would have required Abdullah to concede the election to Karzai, in return for a major role in overhauling Afghanistan’s Constitution to give the president less power.

“I don’t think Afghanistan having a runoff election will automatically  bring a transparent liberal Democracy like we are used to seeing in  America,” said Hahn. “However, I do think it is an important way for President  Karzai to legitimately gain back power if he is to win.”

In an interview with CNN’s John King, Mr. Abdullah reiterated his dislike for the idea. King said, “My trust in becoming a candidate was not to be part of the same government, part of the same deteriorating situation. Mine was for a change in this country…”

Talking to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Karzai said, “We must have a second round. If we don’t do that, we’ll be insulting democracy and a pledge to respecting the vote of the people.”

According to CNN on Monday,  Abdullah issued several conditions that he says need to be met in order to have a transparent and fair runoff election.

 One condition was that his supporters be allowed to monitor polling stations and observe vote counting. Another was for the chief of the election commission, Azizullah Lodin, to be fired along with over 200 staffers that he claims engaged in corruption during the first election in August.

Abdullah has long called for the removal of Lodin, saying he has “no credibility”. He believes that Lodin is aligned with President Karzai.

In a quick response to Abdullah’s demands, President Karzai told Reuters that he would not remove Lodin. Karzai said, “In this short period of time, we cannot makes these changes, this will not be for the benefit of the country and will also harm the country.”

This constant back-and-forth between the two candidates is sure to make for heated debate within the country leading up to the second election, which is set to take place on Nov. 7.

Pointing out a major source of the current problem, Hahn said, “Afghanistan is used to having a patron-client government in the sense that political bosses and people in office often times reward their supporters or clients with political favors as a way to hold on to   their power.”

Indeed, corruption in the Karzai government has been a major source of contention between not only Karzai and his citizens, but also Karzai and the United States.