Abdullah to threaten to boycott election runoff vote

Opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah is likely to call a boycott of Afghanistan's run-off presidential poll if a series of demands are not met by the end of Saturday.


Abdullah Abdullah will boycott Afghanistan's run-off presidential poll unless incumbent Hamid Karzai bows to a series of demands from his rival, officials in his campaign team said.

Officials in Abdullah's campaign team said the former foreign minister would announce he was pulling out of the November 7 contest at a rally on Sunday in the absence of any U-turn by Karzai on measures to combat fraud.

"If our conditions are not met today, Dr. Abdullah will announce his decision in a conference tomorrow (Sunday)," a senior official in his campaign team told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"We will not participate in an election which is not transparent and fraud-free," he added.

Following widespread fraud in the first round in August, Abdullah has demanded Karzai sack the head of the Independent Electoral Commission and suspend four ministers who have campaigned for the incumbent.

Karzai, who fell fractionally short of an outright majority in the first round, has so far flatly rejected the demands.

Asked what Abdullah's stance would be if his conditions are not met, a lawmaker who has been involved in his campaign said the candidate would not take part in the run-off.

"As we have said in the past, we will not participate in an unsound process," Ahmad Bezad told AFP.

"If our conditions are not met and an election takes place on November 7, that will not be an election but a fraud trap and we will not go for a fraud trap, we will not participate."

Abdullah laid out his demands at a press conference on Monday but they received short shrift from both Karzai and Azizullah Ludin, the chairman of the IEC who was appointed by the president.

The IEC said on Wednesday that its chairman could only be dismissed by the supreme court, while Karzai says Abdullah has no right to interfere in ministerial positions.

Lack of funds

Karzai's share of the vote in the first round fell to 49.67% after a UN-backed watchdog deemed around a quarter of all votes cast to be fraudulent.

Abdullah won just over 30 percent in the first round and has a mountain to climb if he is to overhaul Karzai in the run-off.

In an interview with CNN, the former US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad predicted that Abdullah would pull out of the contest as he lacked funds for effective campaigning and because he knew he would lose.

"First, he doesn't have much money left," Khalilzad said.

"Second, I think that he thinks that, given the situation, he's likely to lose, and maybe he'll get less votes than he did in the first round, so that would be embarrassing."

Analysts have said Abdullah's conditions were so unlikely to have been acceptable to Karzai that they were tantamount to an exit strategy.

As well as the fears over fraud, the build-up to next Saturday's election is taking place against the backdrop of a raging Taliban insurgency.

The Islamists, whose ousting in late 2001 by a US-led coalition led to Karzai's coming to power, have promised to intensify their attacks in the wake of a deadly assault earlier this week on a UN guesthouse.

US President Barack Obama is currently mulling a request by his top commander on the ground in Afghanistan for 40,000 more troops to fight the Taliban.

Obama met top military chiefs Friday to discuss the request to beef up troop numbers.

A defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the senior military officers had a "productive" meeting and took time to voice their views on troops and strategy.

No final decisions were taken at the talks but The Washington Post reported that Obama had asked the Pentagon for more options on troop levels, including sending fewer than the roughly 40,000 new soldiers requested.


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