, KABUL, Nov 2 – Election organisers on Monday declared Hamid Karzai Afghan president for a second term, cancelling a one-man presidential run-off following a diplomatic push led by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
"We declare that Mr Hamid Karzai, who won the majority of votes in the first round, and is the only candidate in the second round, is the elected president of Afghanistan," Indepedent Election Commission chairman Azizullah Ludin said.
Ludin said the decision had been made in line with the provisions of the Afghan electoral law and constitution and "consistent with the high interest of the Afghan people".
The move came one day after the only challenger pulled out and after Ban met Karzai amid a diplomatic push to ensure the one-horse election did not take place and to bring a quick end to more than two months of chaos.
Karzai’s rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out of the contest on Sunday, declaring he would not participate for fear that widespread fraud which discredited the first round would be repeated.
Ban met both Karzai and Abdullah as well as his staff in a show of solidarity for those working in Afghanistan following a deadly Taliban suicide attack on a guest-house for UN staff.
In a press conference, Ban did not say whether he wanted to see the election scrapped but said the United Nations would respect and support the decision of the Independent Elections Commission, the organisers of the ballot.
"The United Nations and the international community will stand together and walk together with the next government and the people of Afghanistan."
While Ban refused to be drawn on whether he believed the run-off should be staged, a UN spokesman said it was "difficult to see" how Afghanistan could hold an election in just five days’ time with only one candidate.
A senior European diplomat said there was great unease about staging such a contest at a time when a Taliban insurgency is gathering pace.
"Clearly we know that practically, going to the vote means a big expense and the possibility of a loss of life both of international and Afghan security forces," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
After Karzai snubbed a series of demands promoted by his rival as a chance to avoid a repeat of massive first-round fraud, Abdullah said Sunday that he saw no point in standing, but stopped short of calling for a boycott.
The IEC initially said the run-off would take place as scheduled on Saturday, saying the deadline for Abdullah to withdraw had passed, but a senior official said talks had been convened about scrapping the whole process.
Karzai had opened the door to a possible alternative, saying he would "be obliged to follow" any ruling from the electoral or judicial authorities.
Insistent that first round fraud had been overstated, Karzai only agreed to a run-off under extensive diplomatic pressure.
After the fraud in the first round on August 20, Abdullah demanded Karzai sack Ludin and suspend three cabinet ministers who campaigned for the incumbent — conditions which were stonewalled.
Karzai’s share of the vote in the first round fell to 49.67 percent after around a quarter of all votes were deemed fraudulent.
Abdullah won just over 30 percent and would have had a mountain to climb to overhaul Karzai.