Afghanistan’s Next Steps Unclear After Runoff Cancelation
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GWEN IFILL: The presidential election fight in Afghanistan came to a sudden end today. Election authorities canceled plans for a runoff and awarded President Hamid Karzai another term.
Margaret Warner is in Kabul and has our lead story.
MARGARET WARNER: It was the culmination of a weeks-long presidential campaign drama, when, late today, the chief of Afghanistan’s election commission declared President Hamid Karzai the winner.
AZIZULLAH LODIN, chair, Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan: We declare that Mr. Hamid Karzai, who got the majority of votes in the first round and is the only candidate in the second round of elections for Afghanistan in 2009, we declare as elected president of Afghanistan.
MARGARET WARNER: The decision to cancel next Saturday’s scheduled runoff came after a weekend of political brinkmanship. At stake was the final outcome of an August 20 election so marked by ballot box-stuffing and other fraud that more than one million of Karzai’s votes had been thrown out, forcing a second round.
Today’s abrupt cancellation was triggered by Karzai’s runoff rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday, he convened more than 1,000 of his supporters, and, with emotion choking his voice, withdrew.
MARGARET WARNER: Since Karzai hadn’t agreed to any of the changes Abdullah had demanded, including the firing of top election officials he held responsible for the fraud, Abdullah said he saw no point risking more lives and spending more money on a second voting day.
Despite their disappointment, Abdullah supporters said it was the right decision.
MAWLAWI ABDULBAQI TURKISTANI, member, Islam Justice Party: The decision announced today means that nation won’t go to the polls. Mr. Karzai, he will be alone. He’s trying to have his rule over the people, but he’s already an illegal president.
MARGARET WARNER: But others predicted some of Abdullah’s supporters wouldn’t react so calmly.
MUHAMMAD AKBAR, resident, Afghanistan: Whatever legal thing we can do, we won’t stop. But, definitely, there will be violence from the normal people of Afghanistan.
MARGARET WARNER: A short time later, in the walled courtyard of his home, Abdullah called for calm, and specifically asked his supporters not to demonstrate.
DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: I did it with a lot of pain, but at the same time with a lot of hopes towards the future.