Karzai's Challenger Drops Out Of Afghan Runoff

The challenger to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the upcoming runoff in Afghanistan has announced he will not take part in the race. That leaves next Saturday's election in jeopardy, as well as a vacuum in Afghan leadership that President Obama can ill afford as he decides whether to send more troops to the war-torn country. Guest host Jacki Lyden speaks with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson about Dr. Abdullah Abdullah's withdrawal.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden in for Liane Hansen.

The challenger to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the upcoming runoff in Afghanistan has announced he will not take part in the race. That leaves next Saturday's election in jeopardy, as well as a vacuum in Afghan leadership President Obama can ill afford as he decides whether to send more troops to the war-torn country.

We'll hear what the Obama administration had to say about that in a moment. But, first, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kabul and joins us now. Hello there, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Good morning.

LYDEN: So, why is Dr. Abdullah Abdullah pulling out of the race?

NELSON: Well, he's concerned that there's going to be just as much fraud in this second round as there was in the first round. And of course the first round, the Electoral Complaints Commission, which is a United Nations backed body, ordered 1.3 million votes to be cast out because of ballot rigging and voter intimidation and you name it.

And so this time around, Dr. Abdullah had hoped that there would be some changes to the process that would make sure that this didn't happen again. And none of the demands he made to President Karzai apparently were accepted by that side. And so he said he was not going to take part.

LYDEN: Can the election be held without him?

NELSON: Well, that's the question that everyone seems to be debating right now. At this stage, they are planning to go ahead with the election on November 7th. The ballots are moving out to the polling centers now, and they do include both candidates. But there are meetings going on as we speak, and those meetings may determine that they, in fact, will call off the election. We won't know for a few hours at least. But at this stage it's moving forward.

LYDEN: So, what's been the reaction to Abdullah's announcement?

NELSON: Well, so far the international community has been mum. Karzai's campaign office just a short while came out with an announcement and said that it was an issue of sorrow for them that Dr. Abdullah had decided to do this. And they also said that they would abide by whatever decision the Independent Election Commission makes about whether to go ahead with the election or not. But they said that they would hope that both sides could work together to create national unity and bring security to the country.

LYDEN: And what about Abdullah's supporters?

NELSON: Well, he asked them not to go out into the street and demonstrate in reaction to his decision. But he did not say for them to stay home on election day. He said he would not take part. He was careful not to use the word boycott. And he did not ask them to stay home as well. What's going to be interesting now is to see whether supporters do follow his lead, though, and stay home.

LYDEN: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul. Thanks very much, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Jacki.

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