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Afghan opposition: Karzai delaying election probe

Monday, October 19, 2009

KABUL -- Afghanistan's political opposition accused President Hamid Karzai on Sunday of delaying release of a U.N.-backed investigation into fraud in the August presidential balloting and pressuring election officials to declare him the winner.

International demands mounted for Karzai to agree to a runoff if the fraud probe shows that he failed to win a majority of votes in the Aug. 20 ballot.

A top U.S. official warned that a decision on whether to send thousands more American troops to battle Taliban-led insurgents must wait until the Afghan election crisis is resolved and a credible government is installed in Kabul.

Preliminary results showed Karzai won the election with more than 54 percent of the vote. However, if the Electoral Complaints Commission voids enough Karzai votes, the incumbent would be forced into a runoff against his chief challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

The complaints panel finished its investigation last week. But the announcement of its findings has been repeatedly delayed because the separate, Karzai-influenced Independent Election Commission has questioned the panel's methodology and statistical formulas.

Abdullah's deputy campaign manager, Saleh Mohammad Registani, accused Karzai of pressuring his supporters on the election commission to delay release of the fraud probe because they will show him below the 50 percent threshold to avoid a second round of voting.

"Karzai is the main problem in this situation," Registani told The Associated Press. He said Karzai was insisting that the commission announce that he had won a clear majority -- even after the fraud probe.

Karzai campaign spokesman Waheed Omar said the president had done nothing to influence the election commission.

"There is no way we can influence them, and even if we can, we are not going to do it," Omar said.

According to Afghan law, the complaints commission is the final arbiter on election challenges. However, members of the election commission have insisted that they have the authority to question or challenge methods used by the panel in investigating alleged fraud.

Karzai has insisted that results of the fraud investigation be announced before he will agree to a runoff, and his aides have expressed confidence that the president's total will end up over 50 percent.

That has raised concern in Kabul that Karzai might refuse to accept findings pointing to the need for a runoff, a move that would plunge this country into a political crisis at a time when Taliban strength is growing.

Various formulas have been floated in Kabul to resolve the impasse, including a proposal that Abdullah would concede defeat and forego a runoff in return for a power-sharing agreement with Karzai.

However, the proposals all depend on Karzai accepting the fraud panel's findings even if they show him failing to win re-election outright.

"For the moment we are worried ... because it seems that not everybody is ready to accept the results," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters Sunday in Kabul. "They must accept the results."

Kouchner said Karzai and Abdullah should declare they would be willing to accept the findings of the complaints panel even before they are released because "we need a consensus" and both sides "have to sacrifice."

"At the end of the day, a government is necessary," Kouchner said.

That point was underscored Sunday by President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Emanuel said the main issue facing Obama was not how many U.S. troops were fighting in Afghanistan "but whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner."

In Sunday talk show interviews, Emanuel repeatedly expressed doubts about the Kabul government as a reliable partner for the U.S.

"There's not a security force, an army, the type of services that are important for the Afghans to become true partners," Emanuel said. "It would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create and become a true partner in governing."

Kerry, who visited Afghanistan over the weekend, said Obama should wait until the election process had become clearer before he decides whether to accept recommendations by his top commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for tens of thousands more troops.

Kerry and Emanuel were on CNN's "State of the Union" and CBS' "Face the Nation."

The U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan has already been troubled by a spike in combat deaths which has undermined public support in the United States and Western Europe. The specter of an Afghan government tainted by election fraud has raised questions abroad whether saving Afghanistan is worth the sacrifice.

A U.S. service member was killed Sunday by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, raising to at least 30 the number of U.S. troops killed this month in the Afghan war.


Associated Press Writers Todd Pitman and Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.


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