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October 21, 2009

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Runoff is ordered in Afghan election

AFGHANISTAN'S election commission yesterday ordered a November 7 runoff in the disputed presidential poll after a fraud investigation dropped incumbent Hamid Karzai's votes below 50 percent of the total. Karzai accepted the finding and agreed to a second round vote.

The announcement came two months to the day after the first round vote and follows weeks of political uncertainty at a time when Taliban strength is growing.

The chairman of the Independent Election Commission, Azizullah Lodin, said the commission, which organized the August 20 vote, did not want to "leave the people of Afghanistan in uncertainty" any longer.

"The commission is agreed to go to a second round and say that nobody got more than 50 percent," Lodin said. Afghan electoral law says a runoff is needed if no candidate polls above that percentage.

Karzai announced his acceptance of the findings at a press conference alongside United States Senator John Kerry and Kai Eide, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.

Kerry said the agreement on a second round had transformed the crisis into a "moment of great opportunity."

Karzai praised

Kerry said Karzai "has shown genuine leadership in the decision he has made today."

The decision to accept the fraud findings and move to a runoff showed that Afghanistan "recommits to the democratic process." He complimented Karzai for his "openness to finding ways of resolving differences."

"The international community is 100 percent committed to helping to carry out this election," Kerry said.

The possibility of a runoff emerged on Monday after a UN-backed panel threw out a third of Karzai's votes from the August 20 ballot, pushing his totals below the 50 percent threshold needed for a first round victory and setting the stage for a runoff against former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Another election risks the same fraud that derailed the August vote, along with inciting violence and increasing ethnic divisions. A November runoff also could be hampered by winter snows that block off much of the country starting mid-month. The primary alternative that has been floated is a power-sharing deal, though the form that could take is unclear.


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