Afghan Runoff Canceled, Karzai Declared Winner

The country's election commission announced Monday that Hamid Karzai will get another term as Afghan president. Karzai was supposed to face a runoff election on Saturday, but there was no point once it became clear he was the only candidate running. His challenger Abdullah Abdullah withdrew Sunday.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Hamid Karzai gets another term as Afghanistan's president. The country's election commission announced that today. Karzai was supposed to face a runoff election this coming Saturday, and there was hope that it might be cleaner than the first round, but there was no point once it became clear that Karzai was the only candidate running. His challenger, Dr. Abdullah Adbullah, withdrew yesterday, and in a moment, we'll ask him why.

We start with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She's in Kabul. She's with us live. Hi, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What led to this development?

NELSON: Well, there was a lot of pressure from the Western community to call off this election once Dr. Abdullah dropped out because there was a lot of concern about security, about costs and about what the point was of all of this, I mean, whether people might be confused with a ballot that basically had two candidates, but one of them wasn't standing.

INSKEEP: Which makes sense, I suppose, but it gets to the essential development here, which is that Abdullah gave up before the vote. Did he have a chance of winning if he had taken part?

NELSON: Well, it was widely expected he would not win, that a lot of the votes that went to other candidates during the first round would, in fact, go to Karzai. And there were a lot of talks behind closed doors to see if they could avoid the election in any case for the reasons that I mentioned: the great concern about security since the Taliban had threatened to attack the polls, and also the cost, which is hundreds of millions of dollars so far that they've spent on the polls here.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure I figure this out, because there were some in the West who felt that the first round was seriously flawed, that it called Karzai's legitimacy into question, that it called into question the whole U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and they were hoping, hoping that the second round, even if Karzai won, would be seen as more legitimate. Are you saying that everybody involved had concluded even before Abdullah's withdrawal that it wasn't likely to be any more legitimate?

NELSON: That is correct. There was a lot of concern there would be just as much fraud, if not more, in the second round because of the Taliban attack on the guest house where U.N. workers were last week. The feeling was that international observers wouldn't be able to get to the polls, which were at 6,300 different locations in the country. And so it was increasingly felt that some kind power-sharing deal would make more sense for all concerned.

INSKEEP: So, will President Karzai be seen as legitimate now that he's been formally declared the winner after one round that was flawed and a second round that was cancelled?

NELSON: Certainly, there's - that's a big question. I mean, the Western officials and the Western governments have started rallying around him already. After the announcement by Dr. Abdullah yesterday, they started to announce that they would support Karzai in some way, shape or form. And now the question is will the people of Afghanistan accept him? I mean, he certainly will have a cloud hanging over his head because of the fraudulent activity in the first election.

INSKEEP: And when you ask about the people of Afghanistan, of course, you - we've seen a lot of evidence of that in recent weeks as this campaign has gone on. Is there any sign of strong support for Karzai?

NELSON: Certainly, the majority did indicate that they wanted to vote for him. I mean, if you disregard the fraud for a moment, he did initially seem to get a majority of the vote. He was the top vote-getter in the end, even if it wasn't a majority by constitutional rule. And people that we spoke to in Kabul indicated that they weren't happy with his administration, that they hoped he would do more a second time around. But they did support him.

INSKEEP: OK. Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is reporting this morning from Kabul.

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