KABUL, (AP) – France’s foreign minister urged Afghanistan’s political rivals Sunday to accept the findings of a fraud investigation that could decide whether the nation’s disputed election goes to a runoff.
The Aug. 20 vote was marred by charges of ballot-stuffing and voter coercion, mostly to President Hamid Karzai’s benefit. Both he and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah say the results of the fraud probe, which have been expected since Saturday, are in their favor. Karzai says there will be no second round; Abdullah says there definitely will be.
“For the moment we are worried … because it seems that not everybody is ready to accept the results,” Kouchner told reporters in Kabul. “They must accept the results.”
International pressure is mounting on the rivals to find a way out of the deepening political impasse, which threatens the legitimacy of the Afghan government and the future of the U.S.-led military mission in the insurgent-wracked country.
The U.S. effort is already troubled by a spike in deaths that has damaged public support for the war at home. In the latest violence, an American service member was killed by a bomb attack in the south Sunday, the military reported.
Fearing the political crisis will worsen, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have telephoned both Karzai and Abdullah in recent days to express concern over the stalemate.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, are all in Kabul for talks with Afghan leaders.
Kerry told the candidates “about the need for a legitimate outcome,” according to a U.S. Embassy official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
A U.N.-backed panel has been investigating fraud complaints which could invalidate enough ballots to push the incumbent’s total below 50 percent and force a runoff. Announcement of the commission’s findings was delayed as commission members spent Saturday in meetings with Afghan election officials and double-checking calculations, according to people familiar with the talks.
Both Karzai and Abdullah have refused to commit to accepting the panel’s findings before they’re released.
Asked why the candidates should commit to the findings before knowing what they are, Kouchner said that both sides “have to sacrifice … we need a consensus.”
“At the end of the day, a government is necessary,” Kouchner said.
Preliminary figures from the August ballot showed Karzai won with more than 54 percent of the vote, compared with Abdullah’s 28 percent.
Afghan law declares the U.N.-dominated Electoral Complaints Commission the final arbiter on fraud allegations. However, Karzai supporters on the separate Independent Election Commission, which has the authority to order a runoff, have argued that the partial recount is beyond the normal complaint process and that the fraud panel does not have the final say.
A second round of balloting would have to be held before winter, which traditionally begins in mid-November. Once heavy snows fall and block mountain passes, a runoff would have to wait until spring, leaving the country in political limbo for months as the Taliban gains strength.
In taped interviews to U.S. networks, Kerry said that a decision on whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan could not be made before the election crisis is resolved.
“I don’t see how President Obama can make a decision about the committing of our additional forces or even the further fulfillment of our mission that’s here today without an adequate government in place or knowledge about what that government’s going to be,” he told CBS.
Though larger military decisions may be on hold, fighting continues.
Afghan and international forces raided a number of militant compounds in the south and east in recent days, killing more than 10 militants in firefights, said Capt. Staci Reidinger, a spokeswoman with U.S. forces.