, KABUL, Nov 1 – Opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Sunday pulled out of Afghanistan’s run-off election after his demands to avoid a repeat of massive first-round fraud were snubbed by President Hamid Karzai.
In a move that deepened the war-torn country’s political crisis, Abdullah said he would quit the November 7 contest in protest against what he called misconduct on behalf of the government and the electoral commission.
"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" on November 9, he added in an address in Kabul.
During his lengthy address, the former foreign minister launched a scathing attack on Karzai’s eight-year rule, dimming the prospects that the two rivals could yet agree on some form of power-sharing agreement. Related article: Afghan run-off should take place says Karzai
"We have had eight years of lost opportunities because of the weakness of the government," he said to applause from around 2,000 supporters.
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 had set a deadline of Saturday for Karzai to bow to his demands, saying that he would not take part in a contest that will not be free and fair.
But his demands received short shrift, with the IEC saying Ludin can only be dismissed by the supreme court while Karzai said Abdullah has no right to interfere in ministerial positions.
Abdullah said he had no faith in the prospect of a free and fair election next Saturday while the head of the commission, who was appointed by Karzai, remained in place.
"The election commission was not independent. If it was, the people would not face such a problem. It was their job to ensure a credible election and we saw what happened," he said.
"The people were deprived of their democratic rights."
Speaking on Afghan television shortly before the announcement, Karzai’s campaign spokesman indicated that the election would still take place.
"The election law says that in the event of a second round, the candidates must participate," Waheed Omar told private Tolo television.
The spokesman also criticised Abdullah over his demands, saying there was no way they could have been met.
"The conditions were impractical and had no basis in law. These conditions were never received by us but only given to UNAMA," he said in reference to the UN mission in Afghanistan.
"As President Karzai has said, he does have the authority to sack the chairman of the election commission."
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 second round under extensive diplomatic pressure from Washington, highlighted when he made the run-off announcement standing alongside US Senator John Kerry. Related article: Obama mulls troops request
Asked whether the outcome of a run-off with only one candidate would result in a legitimate government, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday that such situations are "not unprecedented."
"We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward. I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election," she said.
"I’m not going to comment on what any of the candidates might decide to do," Clinton said, adding: "It’s a personal choice which may or may not be made."
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 in the run-off.