Karzai Challenger May Boycott Afghan Runoff

Abdullah Abdullah, the runner-up in Afghanistan's presidential election, is threatening to boycott next weekend's runoff. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson talks to host Guy Raz about Abdullah's announcement, which is expected Sunday morning, and how that could scramble the country's political scene.

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GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

The runner up in Afghanistan's disputed presidential vote is threatening to drop out of the runoff elections scheduled for next weekend. Abdullah Abdullah has demanded certain conditions ahead of the runoff to avoid fraud. Incumbent president, Hamid Karzai was the top vote-getter in the August race, but a U.N. electoral commission ruled that he didn't win in outright majority.

In a few minutes, we'll get a glimpse at life in Kabul in the wake of two high-profile attacks on civilian targets this week. First though: to the election news, and our correspondent in Kabul, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

Soraya, why is Abdullah Abdullah talking about withdrawing from the runoff?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, he had set certain conditions for how he would run if, in fact, he was going to take part, and none of those conditions have been met. One of those was that he wanted the head of the Independent Election Commission to resign because he felt he was too pro-Karzai.

And then he also wanted to have some sort of power sharing arrangement. I mean, basically, he wanted certain ministers fired so that he could have his own people in there. And these are conditions that Karzai's team balked at.

And so, Abdullah had set a deadline of today for these conditions to be met, and since they weren't met, he has now announced that he will have a press conference tomorrow where he will announce his decision about whether, in fact, he will boycott or not. And I know that this evening, there have been a lot of meetings between Abdullah and his campaign team to discuss that very thing.

RAZ: And is it possible that this is a negotiation tactic?

NELSON: It certainly has been all along, but now, he's down to the wire. I mean, basically, President Karzai has made it clear that he will not meet the demands, and so Abdullah has to make a decision.

RAZ: Soraya, will the election - or rather, can the election go forward without Abdullah Abdullah taking part?

NELSON: Well, legally, there seems to be no impediment to it not taking part. And certainly, Mr. Karzai and the election officials who are pulling this runoff together say it will move forward. They're taking all the steps. They're setting up 6,300 polling stations and they plan to move ahead. But there is a small chance that this runoff won't happen.

RAZ: Now, Soraya, as you know, the White House is really banking on Abdullah taking part. They were hoping for some kind of power-sharing arrangement between him and President Karzai. If it goes ahead without him, will Afghans or international monitors in Kabul regard the election as a legitimate one if there's just one candidate?

NELSON: Well, so far, most Western diplomats have remained mum. They want to see what is said first at tomorrow's press conference - what sort of announcement Abdullah makes. But today, I know that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that she didn't think his dropping out would have anything to do with the legitimacy of the election and she called it a personal choice. So it seems like people are determined to see this election go ahead just because they need some sort of legitimacy so that the next government can take power here.

RAZ: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul.

Soraya, thanks so much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Guy.

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