Abdullah withdraws from Afghan elections

Author: Reuters

Pressure had been growing on Abdullah to withdraw from the contest against
President Hamid Karzai, seen by analysts as favourite to win the run-off
after getting the most votes in the fraud-marred first round on Aug. 20.

“I will not take part in the election … I have not taken this decision
easily,” Abdullah told supporters in Kabul.

Karzai’s campaign team said the Nov. 7 run-off would go ahead despite
Abdullah’s withdrawal.

Afghanistan has been racked by weeks of political uncertainty, with security
also a major concern after a resurgent Taliban vowed to disrupt the
presidential run-off.

With Afghanistan’s political future hanging in the balance, US President
Barack Obama is also weighing whether to send up to 40,000 more troops to
Afghanistan. Obama met his top military leaders on Friday as part of a
strategic review.

A spokesperson for the White House could not immediately be reached for
comment on Abdullah’s decision.

Abdullah said he quit because the demands he had sought from the government
and the Independent Election Commission (IEC), including the sacking of
Afghanistan’s top election official in the wake of the tainted first round,
had not been met.

His voice faltering, Abdullah told tribal elders and supporters gathered in a
huge tent in the west of the capital he had made his decision “in the
interests of the nation”.

Later asked by reporters if he would urge his supporters to boycott the vote,
Abdullah said: “I have not made that call.”

Abdullah’s campaign director, Abdulsattar Murad, said talks with Karzai were
not on the table at the moment and that Abdullah, the incumbent president’s
former foreign minister, would likely hold a news conference later on Sunday.

Abdullah’s running mate, Homayoun Assefy, said talks with Karzai could happen
after the proposed run-off.

“Our campaign is finished,” Assefy told Reuters.

“We are not participating. Now it is up to the IEC and we don’t have any trust
in the IEC.”

Western diplomats had suggested it was no longer a question of whether he
would pull out but the manner in which he did it.

“Abdullah has realised how painful a second round will be for the country. The
issue for Abdullah now is how does he withdraw: by saving face gracefully or
boycotting the run-off,” one Western official in Kabul, who asked not to be
identified, told Reuters.

Analysts and diplomats believe withdrawing from the contest, perhaps as part
of a power-sharing deal in return for a top government post in Karzai’s next
government, would spare the country further political pain and insurgent
violence.

But Karzai’s campaign team said it would go ahead with the vote anyway.

The run-off was triggered when a UN-led investigation found widespread fraud,
mainly in favour of Karzai, had been committed during the first round.

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