Afghan opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah has announced that he has withdrawn from next weekend's run-off vote of the presidential election, leaving the way open for incumbent Hamid Karzai to be sworn in.
Presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah on Sunday pulled out of Afghanistan's run-off election, plunging the war-torn country into fresh political turmoil less than a week before the scheduled contest.
After President Hamid Karzai snubbed a series of demands promoted as a bid to avoid a repeat of massive first-round fraud, Abdullah said he saw no point in standing in the second round, but stopped short of calling for a boycott.
Karzai's camp said it regretted the move but insisted the contest should go ahead, although analysts said the incumbent risked losing his legitimacy further with turnout likely to be well below the 38 percent recorded last time.
The Taliban, the Islamist militia behind a rising insurgency, said it intended to carry out new attacks if the election does take place as scheduled on November 7.
"The decision which I am going to announce was not an easy one. It was a decision that I have taken after wide-ranging consultations, with the people of Afghanistan, my supporters and influential leaders," Abdullah told supporters.
"In protest against the misconduct of the government and the Independent Election Commission (IEC), I will not participate in the election," he added in an address in Kabul.
During a lengthy speech, the former foreign minister launched a scathing attack on the "eight years of lost opportunities" during Karzai's rule, dimming prospects the rivals could yet agree on a power-sharing formula.
And in a later press conference, he denied he had cut any deals.
"This is my decision. This decision has not been made in exchange for anything from anybody," he said.
Following the widespread fraud in the first round on August 20, Abdullah demanded that Karzai sack the head of the IEC, Azizullah Ludin, and suspend four ministers who campaigned for the incumbent.
Abdullah's camp set a deadline of Saturday for Karzai to bow to his demands, saying he would not take part in a contest that would not be free and fair.
But his demands received short shrift from the IEC and Karzai, who said Abdullah had no right to interfere in ministerial positions.
Reacting to Abdullah's withdrawal, Karzai's campaign office said the president "regretted" the move and said he would respect any legal ruling on the run-off from the election commission or the courts.
"We remain committed and bound to respect the process and will accept any decisions by the Independent Election Commission and other legal institutions."
Karzai's campaign spokesman said the run-off should still take place.
"We believe that the election has to go on, the process must complete itself," Waheed Omar said.
Abdullah said he had no faith in the prospect of a free and fair election next Saturday while Ludin, who was appointed by Karzai, remained in place.
But he urged supporters to refrain from protests that could inflame the situation and said it was up to them whether they chose to vote.
Analyst Haroun Mir predicted the election would still take place but said Karzai risked losing his legitimacy.
"If voter turnout is very, very low, below 20 percent, then even though he will be declared winner he will lack legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans and the opposition," Mir, head of Afghanistan's Centre for Research and Policy Studies, told AFP.
Taliban attacks were a major factor in the low turnout in the first round and a spokesman for the group vowed more of the same if the election did go ahead.
"We will not allow the second round to pass off peacefully," Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by phone from an undisclosed location.
The United Nations, which has been a key player in organising the elections, appealed for a "timely" conclusion to the process.
"The next step must be to bring this electoral process to a conclusion in a legal and timely manner," said Kai Eide, UN envoy to Afghanistan.
Karzai's share of the vote in the first round fell to 49.67 percent after a UN-backed watchdog deemed around a quarter of all votes cast to be fraudulent.
Insistent that the fraud had been overstated, Karzai only agreed to a run-off under extensive diplomatic pressure.
Abdullah won just over 30 percent in the first round and would have had a mountain to climb if he were to have overhauled Karzai.
Date created : 2009-11-01