Karzai Agrees To Nov. 7 Runoff In Afghanistan

U.S. Sen. John Kerry speaks with Afghan President Karzai i i

U.S. Sen. John Kerry speaks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a press conference at the presidential palace on Tuesday. Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Sen. John Kerry speaks with Afghan President Karzai

U.S. Sen. John Kerry speaks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a press conference at the presidential palace on Tuesday.

Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

Afghanistan's beleaguered President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday said he welcomed a runoff election with his chief rival, after an independent election panel reported the initial vote had been seriously tainted by fraud.

Later, President Obama said he had called Karzai to applaud the decision.

Karzai's announcement came after Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, or IEC, ordered a Nov. 7 runoff in the disputed presidential poll and dropped incumbent Karzai's votes below 50 percent of the total.

Speaking through an interpreter at a news conference in Kabul, Karzai, who had initially claimed victory after the August 20 election, said he accepted the findings of the panel and was willing to face former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

"We believe that this decision of the IEC is legitimate, legal and constitutional and that it strengthens the path towards democracy," Karzai, standing beside U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Kai Eide, the head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, said Tuesday.

"People now have a renewed opportunity to go again and elect their leader," he said.

Kerry said the agreement on a second round had transformed the weeks-long election crisis into a "moment of great opportunity." He said Karzai "has shown genuine leadership in the decision he has made today.

"The international community is 100 percent committed to helping to carry out this election," Kerry said.

President Obama, speaking at White House meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said he had telephoned Karzai to thank him and that he believed the Afghan leader and the other candidates "have the interests of the Afghan people at heart."

"This is a reflection of a commitment to the rule of law and the insistence that the Afghan people's will should be done," Obama said.

Before Karzai's announcement on Tuesday, IEC Chairman Azizullah Lodin said the commission did not want to "leave the people of Afghanistan in uncertainty" any longer. The announcement came two months to the day after the first-round vote and follows weeks of political uncertainty at a time when Taliban strength is growing.

"The commission is agreed to go to a second round and say that nobody got more than 50 percent," Lodin said. Afghan electoral law says a runoff is needed if no candidate gets above that percentage.

Lodin said all the materials are ready for the Nov. 7 runoff.

But the new vote poses significant logistical problems. The security situation has deteriorated in recent months as the Taliban insurgency has grown.

New poll workers would need to be hired to replace those accused of fraud, or else any new election risks being as tainted as the first, analysts say. A suspect result in the second round could incite violence and increase ethnic divisions.

And the harsh Afghan winter, which can close off vital road networks in the north, is also settling in.

A power-sharing deal between Karzai and Abdullah has also been floated, but it could take weeks or months to hammer out an agreement between the two rivals. Earlier, a spokesman for the Abdullah campaign said the candidate did not consider a coalition or power-sharing government acceptable.

From NPR and wire service reports

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