Impasse ends

A deadlock over presidential elections that had plunged Afghanistan into deep political paralysis has ended with President Hamid Karzai finally conceding that he had failed to win an outright majority, necessitating a second round of voting. Initial results to the vote in August had suggested that Karzai had received 55 per cent of the vote and his nearest rival former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah 28 per cent, giving the former an outright victory. But allegations of serious rigging by the two frontrunners resulted in a recount that indicated that a third of the vote was fraudulent. With Karzai’s share of the vote consequently dropping below the 50 per cent mark, a second round of voting was constitutionally required. There was widespread concern that Karzai would not accept the outcome of the recount. But under international pressure, he has come around. Had he failed to do so, Afghanistan’s nascent democracy would have been severely weakened as the legitimacy of the election and the presidency would have come under question. This had implications for the security situation in the country too. A president lacking legitimacy would have failed to provide Afghanistan the strong leadership it needs and would have benefited the Taliban alone.

The runoff election is to be held on Nov 7. The challenges are daunting. Ballots will need to be distributed and election officials hired in a few days. It is likely that the Taliban will step up violence with renewed vigour. This and voter disgust with developments over the past two months, could result in an extremely low turnout in the runoff. This could impact the credibility of the vote. Besides, rigging could happen this time as well. A runoff is no guarantee of a free, fair and credible election. There are strong rumours that Karzai and Abdullah are discussing a power-sharing deal to replace a run-off. Given the extreme hostility that has marked their interaction over the past two months an agreement is likely to prove elusive. Besides, even if a deal is struck, chances of its survival are low.

As Afghanistan readies for another round of voting, Karzai and Abdullah need to realise that stealing an election might win them the presidency but it will only bring them a crown of thorns. They must respect the rules of the electoral game this time at least.

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