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Afghan Election Panel Sets Nov. 7 Runoff

BY Larisa Epatko  October 20, 2009 at 10:06 AM EDT

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission on Tuesday ordered a runoff between President Hamid Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah to take place Nov. 7, after an investigation found countrywide voter fraud.

The results of the fraud investigation by the U.N.-backed Election Complaints Commission disqualified hundreds of thousands of votes, but it was up to the IEC to validate the results.

After the original Aug. 20 vote, the IEC said Karzai won with a vote tally of 54.6 percent. But a probe into allegations of fraud, including more than 100 percent turnout at some polling stations, dropped his tally to below 50 percent — the amount needed to avoid a runoff.

Karzai said he accepted the findings at a press conference alongside Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Kai Eide, the head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.

Karzai “has shown genuine leadership in the decision he has made today,” Kerry said. “The international community is 100 percent committed to helping to carry out this election.”

The runoff decision does present an array of logistical and security issues, with Afghanistan’s harsh winter approaching.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called the second round of Afghan elections a “huge challenge” while commending Karzai for endorsing the runoff. Ban promised more U.N. technical help for the election, according to the AP.

The primary alternative was a power-sharing deal, which would take weeks or months to organize between the two rivals.

The election uncertainty has thrown a wrench into the Obama administration’s efforts to release a strategy in Afghanistan and decide on the question of sending 40,000 more troops as recommended in a Pentagon report by U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

President Obama is still several weeks away from deciding whether to commit more troops, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday, Reuters reported.

But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that prolonged challenges to the political legitimacy of the government in Afghanistan should not halt the administration’s efforts to decide on a new strategy nor would it slow allied military operations there, according to the New York Times.

“We are not going to just sit on our hands waiting for the outcome of this election and for the emergence of a government in Kabul,” he said. “We have operations under way and we will continue to conduct those operations.”

His comments were a departure from other White House and congressional officials. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Sunday that the main question now is whether there will be a credible Afghan government to help provide security and government services, if foreign troops are able to reverse recent Taliban gains, reported Voice of America.

Kerry also said Sunday that it would be “premature” to deploy more troops without political stability in Afghanistan.